How do the Houston Astros solve their first base issue? It's simple. Put A.J. Reed at first base. Ok well, it isn't really that simple, but you sure wish it was that simple.
As crazy as it sounds, you thought by just getting rid of talented yet very inconsistent Chris Carter that all problems would be solved. Yet he actually left a massive hole in the Astros lineup. Carter may have been more down than up offensively and defensively, but he's played more than 125 games in each of the last three seasons.
Finding someone that can play game in and game out like Carter is a big challenge.
The Astros G.M. Jeff Luhnow has made mention on several occasions during the offseason that Jon Singleton is the guy that is going to get the first crack at keeping the job. Singleton would be the safe choice by the Astros and it will likely take a monster spring training by someone else to unseat him.
The problem with Singleton is, he has had chances to unseat Carter at first base a few times over the past two seasons. Unfortunately, he has had trouble stringing much together when in the majors.
In two seasons going back and forth between triple-A and the majors he has never, not even for one month hit higher than .212.
Of all major league players with over 400 plate appearances Singleton has the ninth highest walk rate (highest on the Astros as well) he also owns the highest strikeout rate in the entire majors (yes even higher than Chris Carter).
The question for Singleton going forward is, has he had enough chances? Is it fair to say we already know what he is? To this point Singleton has been a guy that will take a whole lot of pitches, he will fill the count, make the pitcher work and every so often he will launch a ball into the stands. But is that enough to give him 100 plus games at first base? It's essentially what they got out of Carter for three seasons. Although Singleton is a much better fielder than Carter ever was, even still is that enough to completely hand over the keys?
No, it's not, and luckily the Astros do have a ton of other options, some more serious than others.
Marwin Gonzalez and Luis Valbuena should not be considered true options to take over at first base full-time. That being said, both guys will likely spend plenty of time playing over at first, based on the fact that the Astros pride themselves on versatility.
Evan Gattis is another name; fans have wanted him to play first base, but it will likely not happen. The Astros are more than content to keep Gattis playing DH and the few times a year they are in National League ballparks they have him play in left field, or pinch hit. Having Gattis in the field for any stretch of time is something the Astros want to avoid. Not to mention Gattis is recovering from a sports hernia so he won't be getting in much work during spring training at all, if any.
An interesting name is Preston Tucker. He has the former experience (played first base in college) and he won't get consistent day in and day out play this upcoming season. Tucker has made it known that he does have the experience playing first and would be open to it playing there. The Astros, however, have not come to him to ask him to play it. Last season he shared with me he would only need a few weeks fielding grounders to get back into the swing of things. Tucker, out of all the available in-house options on the 40 man roster, would be the best offensive option for the team.
Tucker may not have the potential "home run power" that Singleton has, but for a team that strikes out at such a high rate, he can put the bat on the ball and will put the ball in play. With the speed the Astros have with Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve and George Springer, just having Tucker in the lineup means you can trust him in hit-and-run's; you can't say the say thing for Singleton.
Aside from the names listed above, there is really only one other option. Ultra-talented prospect A.J. Reed is considered the future at first base, but he isn't on the 40 man roster, and will be coming to Spring Training as a non-roster invitee.
Next year he will get a more realistic look if he hasn't already locked down the job after a call-up during the season. Reed's path to the majors could look a lot like Correa's last year, start off back in double-A then head to triple-A and then get the call-up. Reed defensively and offensively is the answer at first base, but it is very, very unlikely he will be the answer day one this season.
First-base will likely be Singleton's day one, but the Astros have a few backup plans. And while they may not have asked Tucker to play first you shouldn't be surprised that he showed up to Spring Training with a first baseman's mitt.