As the calendar winds into the last two months of the MLB season, the Houston Astros are in a pretty good position. They are the hottest team in baseball over the last two months, sporting a 37-15 record since May 23. For a more long-term perspective, they boast one of the best groups of young, core players in the game. George Springer, Carlos Correa, and Jose Altuve are the top three offensive contributors on a team that sits just 1.5 games out of a wild card spot.
That young core and the chances to quickly take over a playoff spot will look even better tomorrow night after A.J. Hinch announced the club purchased the contract of minor league wunderkind Alex Bregman, who made a mockery of the Texas League, PCL and Futures Game this season.
Even though Bregman's gaudy two weeks in Fresno prompted the same "When is [insert mega prospect] coming up??" Twitter treatment that Carlos Correa received, Bregman's promotion comes with more questions. Where does he play in a crowded, productive infield? How does this affect Yuli Gurriel? Is he really ready for the majors after a fewer at-bats than Carlos Correa received at Fresno? Will he and Will Harris take a Saturday game off in September to watch LSU football?
So where does Bregman play?
The Astros' infield play is a big reason why the team sits ten games above .500. Jose Altuve should win the AL MVP and is hitting over .400 his last 60 games. Carlos Correa is producing runs and timely hits after a short slump. Even Luis Valbuena has posted a 115 wRC+. Dig a little deeper though, and the answer for Bregman's position is a little clearer.
Though Marwin Gonzalez is a fan-favorite utility infielder in the same vein as Mike Lamb and Eric Bruntlett, he's not an everyday starter- even through he has been over the last few weeks. He's right at 300 at-bats for the season, already the second-most of his career, and should blow past his previous career high of 344 at-bats set last season. His offensive value supports the notion that he shouldn't be playing six times a week. That's meant with zero disrespect to Marwin's game - his .253/.290/.470 slash line looks great for a guy who starts three or four times a week, switch hits and can play everywhere. Going forward, the Astros can optimize offensive production by shedding the majority of Marwin's starts at third base for Bregman.
How does this affect Yulieksi Gurriel?
Signed as a third baseman, Gurriel can play a lot of positions (as can Bregman, supposedly). Gurriel might have Marwin's positional flexibility (decent everywhere, instead of terrific at one spot) with a better bat. That's a guy that has huge value to a team. As a quick reaction, it wouldn't make sense to constantly rotate Bregman and Yuli between third base and left field, where both have some experience. For the rest of the season, the guess is that Bregman plays third and Gurriel plays left field when both are starting simultaneously. In all other games, A.J. Hinch has the luxury to play matchups with a scary-deep bench of quality hitters.
Is Bregman Actually Ready?
Look, I'm a prospect conservative - it scares me when teams rush players to the major leagues, lest they turn into Mike Zunino. It was obvious that Bregman was ready after watching highlights and reading scouting reports from the Futures Game. His lightning-quick hands and short swing on a national stage had me convinced the offensive game was ready to handle major league pitching, even after 80-ish plate appearances at Fresno.
Did Bregman play enough left field and/or third base over the past few weeks? His short stint in the outfield suggests he'll only play there if absolutely necessary in Houston. Back in 2015, I wrote this site's draft profile on Bregman. The main question in the profile was Bregman's future position.
"Bregman has certainly done it all for a powerhouse program in Baton Rouge-but the big question asked about his pro future is his position. I personally think Bregman can be at least an average defender at short; however, if moved to second, he's above average at that spot. The consensus for Bregman is that he'll move off of short in the majors; my issue with that is he can make some spectacular plays at short and he's not exactly error-prone. There's a lot more that goes into it than that, but it's not as if Bregman is projected to grow out of the position either. At exactly six feet, he seems to have an ideal body for the position. Second is still most likely Bregman's future, but he's done everything possible to convince a team that he can stick at short.
Either my opinion was wrong, the entire industry's insight was wrong, or Bregman just got better defensively. He's recevied rave reviews for his defense recently, and it's a popular assumption that he could play at the same defensive level (or better) at shortstop than Carlos Correa right now. That should be a question better left for spring training 2017- there's no need to disrupt the current state of the Astros infield to move Correa off to third base. So whether Bregman was a little better defensively than he got credit for at LSU or he improved in the minors, the Astros should feel confident in Bregman's ability to hold down the hot corner starting tomorrow night.
Starting tomorrow, the Astros will have their best possible roster on the field against the Yankees (still waiting for James Hoyt to come up). Jeff Luhnow has one week to evaluate this team's potential before addressing issues externally with trades- fans should be confident and excited going into a grueling part of the schedule with Alex Bregman in the fold.
Optimal Astros lineup, August 2016
Hey, let's have a little fun with a potential lineup scenario involving all of the potential parties. This one's for you, Snake Diggity.
Marisnick (or Tucker): DH/OF