Let's play a quick game of "Word on the Street." No, not the one from Sesame Street with Murray. The one the Astros played in Synergistic Chemistry Lab today. I'll give you a category and you name something that goes in it, collecting letters from the fake board in the process.
Okay, the category is "Astros Opening Day backup infielders." Go.
Still waiting. Who ya got?
Yep, it's a harder question than you anticipated for a couple of reasons. It may seem unimportant, since said player won't get that many at-bats in the first place. it also seems like there are plenty of candidates, so why does it matter? After all, once you account for five outfielders, two catchers and four starters on the infield plus a DH, we're maybe dealing with one spot here.
But, consider 2009. Heading into that season, Ed Wade made the decision to keep Jason Smith on the roster. Anyone who remembers Jason Smith, raise their hand. You get a gold star. He only had 21 plate appearances as an Astro before he was shipped out. After that, Houston scrambled to fill that backup spot with the likes of Edwin Maysonet, Matt Kata and a smidge of Tommy Manzella.
Last year, backup infielders collected roughly 300 plate appearances for the Astros, when you factor in Marwin Gonzalez's time as a non-starter and all of Jake Elmore and Brandon Laird's time. That doesn't seem significant enough to worry about, but again, it's not a spot the Astros want to go fishing for immediately. I mentioned Manzella above. When he went down in June with a broken finger, Houston had to scramble to find Angel Sanchez off waivers. In the game immediately after Manzella was hurt, 37-year-old Geoff Blum got the start at shortstop. And you thought seeing Brett Wallace there would have been bad.
Getting those one or two backup infielders correct for April and May can be key. That gives guys time to work things out in Triple-A, to figure out which minor leaguers have taken a step forward and scour the waiver wire for possible fixes. In short, getting it right first means the Astros won't be desperate to fix things.
Soon, the competition will get started. Who's in it? Who has pole position? Who's a deep sleeper?
Seven infielders currently reside on the 40-man roster. They include starters Matt Dominguez, Jose Altuve, Jonathan Villar, Chris Carter and Jesus Guzman. Also there are Jon Singleton and Marwin Gonzalez. Considering Singleton probably begins the year in the minors, it leaves Marwin as the only infielder on the roster already. That automatically gives him an advantage and means he's the most likely candidate to grab a backup infield spot. The fact he can play shortstop, second base and third base also gives him an advantage.
Of the non-roster guys, Cesar Izturis is a close second to Marwin. He's not as good a hitter (which isn't saying much), is a pretty good defender but may not have the versatility to play third. Other NRIs are Jonathan Meyer, Carlos Correa, Ronald Torreyes and Gregorio Petit.
Of those, let's cross off Meyer and Correa immediately. Both may get to the majors eventually, but it won't be this April. That leaves Torreyes and Petit as realistic possibilities. But, since Torreyes hasn't played above Double-A and still has some development to do, he's likely a long, long shot to break camp with the team.
In all likelihood, the battle for those one or two spots comes down to Marwin, Petit and Izturis. There's a chance that only one backup spot goes to an infielder, as Brett Wallace or another platoon first baseman grabs the other spot so he can pair with Jesus Guzman. Of those three, Marwin obviously is way out in front at this point, with Izturis second and Petit a distant third.
Don't count Petit out, though. He's 29 and has nearly 1,500 plate appearances in Triple-A the past three years. The Astros also got rave reviews of his defense over the winter and his minor league stats suggest he could be a better-hitting version of Izturis.
How do you see the backup infield race shaking out? Are you interested at all in the question? How detailed with Snake's inevitable depth chart list on this post be? (I kid, SD. I kid because I love)