The trade of Jed Lowrie has opened up a position battle at Shortstop. Former first-round draft pick Tyler Greene is one of three contenders for the position, but does he have what it takes to stand out among his competition?
With a dash of prescience, David penned an article last week in which he wondered if Marwin Gonzalez could be an effective starter at the Shortstop position for the Astros in 2013, in the event of a Jed Lowrie trade. He followed that up by banging out another few hundred words about Jake Elmore, trying to answer the same question. In a grand validation of David's nostradomic talent, the Astros traded Lowrie to the Oakland A's the night before the Elmore post was scheduled to publish.
The Astros have a third shortstop on their 40 man roster besides Gonazlez and Elmore, and no, it is not Brett Wallace. On August 9, 2012, the St. Louis Cardinals traded Tyler Greene to the Astros for cash or a Player To Be Named Later. To date, no PTBNL has been N, so presumably Houston only parted with some cash in this transaction. A few weeks before the trade, John Sickels at Minor League Ball (gratuitous SB Nation plug) profiled Greene. He summarizes:
Given the totality of his track record, Greene isn't a guy who is going to win batting titles, hit much above .240, or post a strong OBP on any consistent basis. However, Greene can still do a lot of things to help his team win, and it would not surprise me to see him have an "out of nowhere" season when everything clicks.
That statement is a good endorsement of Greene and damning all in one tidy bite. During Greene's career, he has struggled with making contact at the plate - from his college days at Georgia Tech, to his minor league career after being drafted 30th overall in 2005, to his several major league stints. Likewise, he has played passable defense without standing out, and displayed good game speed without being a burner. Greene is an excellent athlete whose tools have translated enough to make him a replacement-level player with upside, but not much else so far.
To give him some credit, Greene's 690 plate appearances (or roughly a bit more than one season's worth) have been split over parts of four major league seasons, and so he has not had the opportunity to show he can make adjustments over the long haul. He may get that chance this season with the Astros. Though Greene presumably will split shortstop duties with Gonzalez and Elmore in 2013, he has a chance to earn a large portion of playing time if he is able to put his tools into action with better consistency than he has to date.
At the Plate
Greene bats right-handed, and the ability to make contact is what has held him back in the majors. For his career, his .214 Batting Average and 26.4% strikeout rate are a direct result of his 73% contact rate on pitches at which he has swung. Just for local comparison, second baseman Jose Altuve's career contact rate is 90%.
Greene has always displayed good power, as evidenced by his 11 home runs and .170 ISO* in 2012. Until 2012, he also took walks, which boosted his offensive output (10.7 BB% in 2010 and 2011). That walk rate dipped to below 6% in 2012, which crushed his On Base Percentage to well below acceptable levels. His minor league career does not suggest that plate discipline is his forte, so expect the walk rates to be between those two numbers, at best.
His splits show that he is far more effective against Left-Handed pitchers than Right-Handed (.241/.314/.407 vs. .213/.277/.324 and even more pronounced in 2012). Perhaps Astros manager Bo Porter will elect to platoon Greene with somebody who has splits that favorably compliment his.
Overall though, Greene's career offensive output has been exactly the level of an average MLB replacement player. That doesn't look to change unless the Astros minimize the negative offensive contribution he brings against Right Handers.
*ISO = Isolated Power. Simply put, the rate of extra bases earned beyond the first, per At Bat. SLG%-AVG
In the Field
According to scouts, Greene's best defensive tool is his arm. His defense has never significantly hurt the team he's played for, but it has also never particularly helped. Advanced metrics paint him as very slightly below average at both 2B and SS, primarily due to limited range and propensity to make mistakes that lead to errors.
Look Ahead to 2013
Greene figures to get his shot for playing time at Shortstop in 2013 for the Astros, but how much depends on his ability to finally turn his athleticism into production of a higher quality than he has shown so far. He could platoon with Elmore, who is a good hitter versus right-handers. Or perhaps he platoons with Gonzalez, who is the better defender. Or maybe he serves as a super-utility player, spelling Elmore and Gonzalez at short, Matt Dominguez at third, and Altuve at second, all the while giving Porter a pinch hitter with pop against lefties. This last scenario looks most likely at present, given Greene's history, contact woes, and average-at-best defense. Finally, Greene is 29 years old, and the Astros probably will want to see more of Elmore and Gonzalez, who have a greater likelihood of still being around the next time the club is relevant in the standings.
For this position battle, much will depend on offensive performance as none of the options are particularly bad at defense. Greene does not stand out compared to his teammates in any noticeable way, and will have to put his bat to good use to earn much more than 250 plate appearances. Could Tyler Greene start at Shortstop for the 2013 Astros? Probably. But whether he will or not is anybody's guess.