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Will Tyler White Be The Astros Opening Day First Baseman?

Spring Training stats don't mean anything...unless they do.

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

I will start by saying that Spring Training stats don't mean anything. I have heard this, and said this, hundreds of times. The team already has an idea of who will play where by the time they get to Florida. Spring Training is a time to fine tune the team's plans. So of course Spring Training stats don't mean anything...until maybe they do.

Now before you jump down into the comments to tell me what an idiot I am for saying this (it's a long season, and you will have plenty of chances), hear me out.

When camp started, Jon Singleton was the heir-apparent to the first base job. Jeff Luhnow had said as much on multiple occasions over the winter. Tyler White, on the other hand, wasn't even on the 40-man roster, but had success hitting the ball at all levels which earned him an invite to Kissimmee. A few weeks in and it looks like things may be changing.

This spring Singleton has produced a .087/.125/.261 line in 11 games (23 at-bats). In similar playing time, White has produced a .385/.385/.577 line. Obviously White has the advantage here. Except these stats don't mean anything, right? Well...sorta. They don't mean anything unless they show something you may already know or suspect.

Last season at Triple-A Fresno, Singleton had a solid season. He batted in the .250's with 22 homers and a 128 wRC+. He didn't seem to have a lot to prove at that level. Yet when he came up to the big club it was a continuation of his struggles from the 2014 season. And by struggles, I mean he has a problem making contact. His overall contact percentage at the Major League level is 65% (bad), and his O-Contact% is 54% (terrible). His strikeout rate is 36% over his time with the Astros. (For those who need a reference point like me, Chris Carter only struck out 33% of the time). It looks like this is being confirmed in Florida, as Singleton has struck out at a 45% clip.

In 2015 White evenly split his time at two levels (Double-A and Triple-A), and even though we don't have the same data as we have on MLB hitters, he doesn't look like he has the same contact woes. His batting average over both levels was .325, with a .939 OPS. He doesn't show the promise of prodigious power like Singleton, but he does show a little something in that category, even if his power is of the doubles variety. Also his strikeout rate was under 15%. (For another reference point, here is a list of the Astros with a lower strikeout rate in 2015:  Jose Altuve.)

White obviously does not have any Major League experience to look at, so it is not an apples-to-apples comparison. This is where the spring stats can count for something. The team can see that White can hit, like he has at every level along the way. They can also see that Singleton is still struggling at the plate.

As Dave Cameron wrote on Fangraphs yesterday, everyone is assuming that the next long-term first base option (A.J. Reed) will start this season in the minors. Also Evan Gattis will probably not be 100 percent come opening day. What better time to get Tyler White onto the team and see what he can do? Let him face top pitching every day and see if we have a future first baseman (or DH). Luhnow seems to agree. In an interview Sunday posted on the Astros website Jeff now calls White "the leading contender" for the first base job (skip to 2:16).

As David Coleman pointed out in his post last week

"White being on the team wouldn't be a surprise. What they have to do to get White on the team would be surprising."