Does J.B. Shuck have a chance of making this roster?
That's what I want to talk about before we jump into the rest of the stock watch. With the fifth starter's battle decided, the Astros have a shorter list of questions to answer. One of those is who will be the fifth outfielder. Shuck was a long shot to make the 25-man roster heading into spring training. In fact, many of us just assumed he was added as split squad fodder for March. However, he's survived two rounds of cuts now and is still in the mix to garner that spot.
There are two important parts to the question of whether he could make the Opening Day Roster. First, what is Shuck's upside? I've liked everything I've seen out of Shuck in his time in the minors. He also does a lot on the field that a manager would like, hustling down the line, bunting well with good speed down the base lines. He could improve a bit on his base stealing technique, but overall, he's got a good set of tools that Brad Mills could use on the bench.
Could Shuck be a starting outfielder? That depends on his defense. Though he's a fairly athletic player, he's got some defensive limitations that have consigned him to left field for much of his minor league career. If Mills felt comfortable playing him in center and in left, I'm sure he'd have a much better shot of making the team. As it is, his arm is a bit stretched playing in right and he doesn't have the range to play center. Of course, Jason Michaels also doesn't have the range to play center, but he filled in for Bourn in the past. If he's limited to left field in a starting role, Shuck doesn't really have the power to be a starter there, especially on a team as power-starved as the Astros. Maybe his upside is that of a reserve outfielder.
If that's the case, let's lead into Question No. 2: Does Ed Wade have some extra motivation to get another player he drafted onto the roster? The faster his guys move through the system, the quicker he can make his stamp on this team and show just what his rebuilding efforts mean. Wade doesn't have that connection to Brian Bogusevic and only has it with Jason Bourgeois because he picked him up from another team. Shuck is his guy, though, and would start showing fans and his bosses that his plan is coming to fruition.
That last part is especially key. As native_astro pointed out this morning, there will be some very real concerns for Wade once this team is sold. He is going to need to show progress this year in order to keep his job, and that progress will probably not come in the win column. So, any players he can develop will only help him once a new ownership group comes into focus.
That's why Shuck may make this team. However, his chances are still long. Bogey can play both center and right field while Bourgeois also plays second base. That flexibility is big off the bench. Bourgeois doesn't get on base at the same clip as Shuck, but he steals bases much better and could act as a better pinch runner. For that matter, Bogey has more power than Shuck, steals more efficiently than the former Ohio State outfielder and is left-handed.
Shuck may very well get playing time on the big league club this season, but I doubt he breaks camp with the team. As for the rest of the roster, let's get to them after the jump...
UPDATE: Against all odds, it looks like Shuck's chances just went up about 50 percent, as Brian Bogusevic was optioned to Triple-A this morning, according to Zachary Levine's Twitter feed. Still think Bourg is running ahead of him, but it'll be an interesting final week of the season.
Nelson Figueroa, rising - We've gone over this, but I just thought I'd acknowledge that Figueroa has done well in the past week. Holding off a hard-charging Jordan Lyles is no small feat.
Enerio Del Rosario, peaking - The sidewinding right-hander has done everything that you could want in spring training. He's struck batters out at a good clip. He hasn't walked anyone and he hasn't given up any runs in relief. So why do I say his value is peaking now? Because I think he's still on the outside looking in with the roster. He has options left, so the Astros can send him to Triple-A. He also wasn't spectacular in an 11-game stint with the team last season. His strikeout rate was down and his walks were up in an extremely small sample size. Has he shown enough since joining the Astros to warrant bumping Jeff Fulchino off the roster? I say no, but if he keeps it up into May as a RedHawk, he just might be back in Houston.
Henry Villar, rising - Brett Dolan made a comment on Twitter about how Villar has gone four straight appearances with at least 2 innings and multiple strikeouts. Like Del Rosario, Villar has been as good as advertised. The question is whether the Astros are comfortable enough with his track record to give him a roster spot. Given that the team was telling McTaggart and Z that Villar had a shot for that final bullpen spot when spring began, I'd say yes. The toughest cut of camp may be him or Del Rosario.
Ryan Rowland-Smith, falling - Yes, he fell out of the fifth starter's race. He's also generating a little buzz on the trade market, as teams in need of a starter start making calls. If the Astros did move him for, say, a lefty-hitting outfielder or infielder, they'd also free up room for Melancon, Fulchino and either Villar or Del Rosario to make the roster. It'd only give Mills one lefty in the 'pen, but maybe he's okay with that as long as he has flamethrowers like Melancon and Co. So, Hyphen's stock is only really falling with Houston and it'll remain to be seen whether he's here on Opening Day.
Anderson Hernandez, rising? - The only lefty-hitting reserve infielder in camp right now, Hernandez seems poised by playing time to have a shot at that backup infield spot. He can play multiple spots, just like Matt Downs. Also like Downs, he doesn't really play shortstop all that well. He's also been getting more time lately, which may just be a product of the kids leaving for minor league camp. Still, I'm sure the Astros want him to be on that roster, giving Mills some added flexibility, but I also wouldn't be surprised if he gets sent to Oklahoma City and acts as the emergency infielder in case of injuries.
Angel Sanchez, fading? - Sanchez hasn't gotten a lot of time this spring because of various injuries. I'm wondering now if those injuries will prevent him from landing a backup infield job. I have the sense that his defense is not quite as good as Tommy Manzella, though his bat might be. I just have no sense of his spot on this club right now. I think he probably needs a strong push in this last week to beat out Manzella, but I'm not sure. Is he really competing with Matt Downs and Anderson Hernandez at this point?
Wandy Rodriguez, rising - Nothing to worry about after all, everyone. Wandy came back from a little bout with tendinitis and threw well against Washington. In fact, he threw so well that he didn't get in the number of pitches he wanted to and had to throw about 12 more in the bullpen after he left the game. He'll still need some work to get stretched out before his first start of the season, but we can safely move the Wandy Worry meter back down a notch.
Humberto Quintero, rising - Ever since Jason Castro went down with his knee injury, the Astros have been scrambling to find a new catcher to take his at-bats. All the while, they insisted that Q would be the backup and someone would be filling in as the "starter," though the percentage of actual playing time would be up in the air. After reading McTaggart's latest notes, it seems that Mills has swayed on keeping Q as the backup and there's a good chance he's your Opening Day starter. Q won't hit as well as he has this spring, but he's a fine defensive catcher. Maybe that's all the Astros need.
J.R. Towles, can't buy a break - Fans don't see players every day. We don't see them in the clubhouse. We don't see them lifting weights or interacting with teammates. We don't even get to hear what they say to each other when we do see them on TV. As much as we like J.R. Towles for his bat, maybe there are things we don't see which makes the organization display so little confidence in him. Two different managers (who are very different people) have given him a shot and he hasn't been able to handle it. Now, with a glaring hole at catcher, Towles is knocking the cover off the ball and he's still getting passed by Quintero on the depth chart. That, my friends, is just inexplicable.