As it stands now, less than two weeks before Spring Training, the Astros face a logjam in the outfield. Last year the Astros ran with generally a four-man outfield, with veterans George Springer and Josh Reddick penciled in as regulars when healthy, and at any given time, two others, Derek Fisher, Tony Kemp, Kyle Tucker and/or Jake Marisnick being shuttled up and down from the minors. In addition, now departed super-utilityman Marwin Gonzalez played 73 games in the outfield. His replacement, Aledmys Diaz, has played only three games in the outfield in his career but could see action on rare occasion.
This year the Astros added All Star outfielder Michael Brantley to the stable. So if the Astros run with a four-man configuration again, and if the starting outfield is Springer, Reddick and Brantley (not necessarily valid assumptions), that leaves one spot for Kemp, Marisnick, and Top 10 MLB prospect Kyle Tucker.
To complicate the matter, Tony Kemp is out of options, and early in the season Jake Marisnick will have too much service time to be optioned as well.
Another issue to consider: only Springer and Marisnick are right handed hitters in this group.
Just in case anyone contemplates using one of the outfielders primarily as a DH, the likely DH and 1B fill in, the Great White Shark, Tyler White, is also out of options. So, to summarize, if the Astros try to make room on the roster by sending Tony Kemp, Tyler White, and, in short order, Jake Marisnick to the minors, they will likely lose these players.
So what will the Astros do? Who is in and who is out? How will those who are out get the hook? The TCB staff will take a stab at these questions, and we invite your supremely well informed comments as well.
With uncertainty on the pitching staff, I think the Astros go with a 13 man pitching staff again, and Tyler White has earned a shot to start the season at DH. So, four outfielders. Reddick had a down year last year but I suspect regression means a bounce back season. Plus, he is hard to trade. I think Tucker starts in AAA working on the glitches that limited his production in his brief time in the majors last year.
That leaves Marisnick and Kemp. That feels like Sophie’s choice to me, both lovable Astros who bring energy and enthusiasm to the overall team chemistry. Marisnick is an elite defender who, despite hitting only .211 last year, had 1 fWAR in only 213 AB’s. When he makes contact he has a tendency to send the ball a long way, with 26 home runs in the last two years in a part time role. And an elite base runner as well. But his wRC+ was only 85 after a 118 in 2017.
Kemp is almost the exact opposite, a contact hitter with little power and average defensive and base running skills at best. But it’s hard to throw away a fourth outfielder who had a 110 wRC+ and a .351 OBP. And when batting ninth those numbers improved to 140 and .395 respectively. He contributed 0.9 fWAR in 255 AB’s.
Either could go but I say beloved Tony Kemp is included in a trade because the Astros system has too many left handed outfielders, Reddick, Brantley, Tucker, Fisher, and Jake Marisnick flat out robs the opposing team of doubles and home runs like no one else. He will bat almost exclusively against left-handed pitching where his wRC+ in the last two years is 121 and 90 respectively.
I realize that in many games I won’t have a left handed pinch hitter. Like I said, Sophie’s choice.
So my outfield: George Springer, Josh Reddick, Michael Brantley and Jake Marisnick
This makes for a very interesting decision. My guy reaction says Tucker in LF, Springer in CF, Reddick in RF with Brantley rotating between the outfield and DH. Marisnick as the 4th/5th outfielder. Here is why I go this route.
Tucker is one of the top prospects in baseball and didn’t really get a chance to establish himself last year. Tucker suffered from some bad luck last year and some of the advanced stats showed his expected numbers should have been better. I want to see him get a chance to be an everyday player.
Springer is obvious. No need to explain this one. The Astros are in an interesting spot with Reddick. Signed to a 4 year deal prior to 2017, he has had one good year and one okay year. But with his contract right now, he has to be out there. Last year he only had a 99 wRC+ but was still worth 1.8 WAR.
I love the Brantley signing and just want his bat in the lineup. If this means rotating DH/LF/RF, I’m all for it. Marisnick is the best defender of the bunch so, like previous seasons, he is the ideal 4th/5th outfielder.
I think a lot of the decision making will come down to Spring Training performance, partly because of seeing the players in action, partly in case of injury clearing the logjam a little, but also partly because I think the number of remaining free agents means some teams might be willing to deal later than normal once the last few big names finally do sign.
That said, I think George Springer has his spot on lock. I think Josh Reddick is the player the Astros would like to move the most, but he’s also the most difficult one to work into a deal, so I’ll say he starts Opening Day on the team unless talk rumors heat up. Michael Brantley will also obviously be on the Opening Day roster, but their statements on him so far lead me to believe that he’ll be rotated through the outfield, DH, and first base pretty regularly (which makes sense, given his defense), so I’m thinking of him as more of a fourth-and-a-half outfielder.
If that is how the team approaches things, then I think there’s room for both Tony Kemp and Jake Marisnick, with Kyle Tucker starting the year in AAA to refine his game a little more and make use of his greater flexibility. It really does feel like someone will have to be moved eventually, though it’s hard to predict given that we don’t know who other teams are most interested in. Luhnow and company seem committed to keeping Tucker, even while considering trades for big pieces like J.T. Realmuto, so Kemp, Marisnick, and any minor leaguers other than Tucker are probably more likely to go (assuming they can’t find a team willing to take on Reddick in a contract swap or something).
Exile in Saint Louis
I agree with much of what others have said. My guess is this: the Astros keep Reddick for his defense. If he’s not hitting by July, then they unload him. Springer is the lock in CF. Marisnick is the 4th OF. The tricky spot is LF, with Tucker, Brantley, and Kemp all capable of making a case. All of those guys can DH, so it’s really four guys and two spots. I love Kemp, but I think he gets flipped for bullpen depth next month, to a team that wants to stay competitive but has an injury at 2b or LF. White is our DH, Brantley starts in LF, and Tucker comes up as soon as there’s an injury to a non-up-the-middle player.
Springer is a lock in CF, and my hope is that he’s flanked by Reddick in RF and Tucker in LF on Opening Day. If that happens, Tucker had another nice Spring and the Astros retain Reddick’s above average defense, lefty stick, and just overall fun attitude.
What I think will happen is Tucker starts the season in the Minors with Kemp/Jake rotating time in the outfield (Kemp in LF & Jake in CF when he plays, moving George to RF and Reddick to LF). I like both Kemp and Marisnick, but it seems a possibility they get moved with the number of MLB-quality outfielders the Astros have. What will really be interesting is what the starting outfield looks like after Tucker’s second chance and near the trade deadline.
There are some tough roster decisions coming up very shortly. I think I’m going to be in the minority, in that I think the “kinks” in Tucker’s game are somewhat overblown based on the worst luck in all of major league baseball last year which is highly unlikely to repeat itself. With that said, I have to assume that Tucker starts the year in the minors, simply out of roster crunch reasons.
The Astros are uniquely positioned when it comes to depth, which is a great element to have. I can’t imagine the Astros going with 12 pitchers instead of 13 especially given the volatility of the back end of the rotation.
I think most people would agree on the locks of Yuli, Altuve, Correa, Bregman, Chirinos, Stassi, Springer and Brantley. That leaves 4 spot for the less guaranteed players. I agree with Theo that Reddick is likely the player the Astros desire to deal, but obviously his contract status is somewhat limiting.
A trade of Kemp or White is more likely, although it would probably result in a JD Davis-esque return instead of impact players today.
My guess is that someone comes down with a real or mysterious “injury” in Spring Training which is how they handle the situation. If that’s not a given, I think Jake Marisnick is sent down, and is used as depth. He has minimal control left, so the loss of him as an asset, while painful is the least detrimental to the long term success of the team. Tucker will initially be kept down simply out of ability to do so.
So my final 4: Reddick, White, Kemp, and Diaz.
As much as I’d love to go against the grain just to troll people and generate comments, I read recently that trolling is frowned upon here, and I have a sacred duty as an unpaid intern to ensure the sanctity of the TCB flag. So instead of saying that the starting outfield should be Kemp, Reddick, and Marisnick, with Springer at DH and White at 1B, I will instead be realistic.
Tyler White posted offensive numbers that were 44% better than an average major league batter’s last season in nearly half of a full season, and that came with sustainable peripherals. By wRC+ and by WAR, Steamer projects White to be the fifth-most valuable batter on the Astros’ roster next season. He will be the DH, he should be the DH, and if he’s not the DH, then he should be playing first base to give Yuli Gurriel a break. Any other scenario is not being realistic about who White is as a major league player right now.
Brantley was brought here to be the left fielder. The Astros said so. There has been no indication that they intend him to play anything else for a majority of the time, although he _might_ take a few appearances at DH when White moves to first. In right field, it is Josh Reddick. For some reasons, Astros fans are down on Reddick, as if he needs to be replaced. He’s a fine above-average major league batter who plays fine defense in right field, and he is under contract through 2020. A trade is not going to happen before the season, if at all, and so Reddick will be the starting Right Fielder.
On the bench, it’s Marisnick and Kemp to start the season - the Astros won’t need to carry thirteen pitchers early in the season because everybody will be fresh, and because there are a good number of AAA arms that can be shuffled back and forth at need.”