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Astros spring training: Outfield shrinks as Alex Presley, Robbie Grossman battle for fourth spot

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Will Presley or Grossman be the fourth outfielder? More importantly, why won't Houston carry a fifth outfielder?

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The most interesting information to surface this weekend is that A.J. Hinch plans on only carrying four outfielders on the 25-man roster.

If the three starters will be Colby Rasmus, George Springer and Jake Marisnick (and all indications are that those WILL be the three starters), that leaves just one backup spot.

Evan Drellich's tweets on Monday suggested that the "best" player may not win that job. The player with the least options will.

Every indication, then, is that Alex Presley will be that fourth outfielder. He can play all three outfield positions if needed. He can start in a pinch. He can pinch hit.

Also, Robbie Grossman, who has been on fire so far this spring, has options and can start in the minors. By sending him down, the Astros will allow him to play every day and get prepared in case there's an injury to any of the three starters.

While Presley is the least-popular outfielder among the TCB crowd, it's obviously the Astros value him. They gave him that $1 million contract and seem to like his versatility. He has value to them, in other words, and I doubt they'd risk losing him for nothing.

After all, that was the problem with J.D. Martinez last spring. Houston lost an asset for nothing, who turned out to have a phenomenal year. Will he keep it up? Probably not, but it's been nice to see him succeed with the Tigers. If the Astros did learn something from how that decision worked out, it's to value team control. That's why Grossman heads to the minors and Presley doesn't get waived.

But, none of that answers a simple question. What's going on in the outfield? Why can't the Astros just carry Grossman AND Presley? Don't most teams carry five outfielders?

Most teams don't have Evan Gattis.

El Oso Blanco complicates all roster decisions, even as he gives Hinch quite a bit of freedom in how he trots out his lineup.

There could be days where Gattis plays left field, when Rasmus or Marisnick are resting. There could be days when he starts at first base. He could also DH once or twice a week and, yes, even play catcher once a week. He wouldn't have a set starting spot in the lineup, but could fill in all over.

In essence, Gattis could be Houston's less defensively-skilled version of Ben Zobrist. Which is great, but it does pose some roster construction problems.

Without a set position, Gattis remains in this weird limbo. Houston still needs three starting outfielders and has both a viable first baseman and designated hitter that it won't just get rid of to make space for Gattis. The Astros also have two catchers who figure to make the Opening Day roster.

So, that leaves either a backup infield spot or that fifth outfield spot for Gattis to fill. It appears Houston has settled on him taking that fifth outfield spot, which leaves Grossman on the outside looking in.

This whole competition suggests one more small thing, however.

It seems the Astros aren't going to rely very much on spring performance to determine roster spots. We'll get into more battles on Wednesday, but for now, it seems the Astros' 25-man roster is pretty set. We know the starters. We know the reserves. We know the starting pitchers and we know the bullpen.

That's bad news for Bob Grossman, Attorney At Law. But, I think it's a good thing for the Astros as an organization. They're in a different place than they were two years ago. Every spot on the roster isn't up for grabs.

They're just like a real, live baseball team again.