Everybody knows that the Astros are stacked with ready and near-ready arms who will make an impact. But what prospects will impact the team with their bats? Here’s one attempt to look into that silver ball.
Since the Brantley signing, it’s been obvious that, barring injury, there would be almost no room on the opening day roster. The starters are all set, and three of the four bench/DH guys (Kemp, White, Stassi), have no options left. That means a AAA player like Myles Straw had no chance to “beat them out” or “win a job” in spring training. Those guys are too good to waive. So before getting to the who, let’s start with the how, as in how players at the upper level of AAA might contribute.
THE THREE HOWS: INJURY, TRADE, AND UNDERPERFORMANCE
Athletes get injured. Some have better track records than others of being injured. Of the current Astro regulars, Brantley has the most alarming injury history. But anybody could go down. The minor league depth is weakest at 2B/SS, with no viable prospects above A ball. Because Bregman can play SS, and Diaz can play 2B and SS, the Astros aren’t expecting minor leaguers to fill those positions.
Few current Astros are trade bait. In part because there aren’t any bad contracts. Yuli Gurriel and Josh Reddick are worth their contracts. The Astros might trade one of them if either is producing at a level that could be replicated for league minimum. Keep in mind, that’s different than replacement level. Average MLBers are pretty valuable, and a guy like Reddick has been above average to very good most seasons. That’s why he, or Yuli, might have value to a team in contention but facing an injury, or needing some veteran stability.
Underperformance: Almost every player has a track record of performing. The exceptions are White, Kemp, and Stassi. If any of those players really stink up the joint and seem lost, the Astros may risk passing them through waivers.
In summary, there’s just not a lot of room, at least from the vantage point of late March, for impact from position-playing newcomers. 162 games is a long time though, and weird things happen.
WHO: PLAYERS WHO MIGHT IMPACT THE TEAM
First category: post-prospects on the 40-man. Just two players fall into this category: AJ Reed and Derek Fisher. Both have seen their stock drop due to inability to hit the baseball consistently. Still, Fisher looked great in ST, and if either are hot in Round Rock, and an injury happens to, say, Tyler White or Tony Kemp, they might be called on. And if they produce in Houston, they might stick. Reed has been in the doghouse for years, and Fisher performed horribly last year, on a very short leash. But both are former top-100 prospects with potential.
Second category: guys on the 40-man who profile as backups. This list includes Myles Straw and Garrett Stubbs. Both have skills that make them roster-able. Both have the potential to be everyday players, based on those skills (contact ability, speed, defense). Both will be on the Astros’ September roster. Of the two, Stubbs seems more likely to play a major role, as he could form the lefty half of a platoon. Catchers get injured a lot, and Stassi’s OPS went from .792 before the ASG, to .485 after it. If 2nd half Max Stassi shows up for April and May, Stubbs may get a chance. Straw has elite speed, but is nothing like Jake at the plate. Straw has almost no power, but great patience and contact ability. If Jake goes into a deep funk, he still has an option, and Straw could provide late-game base running and defense.
Third category: guys who profile as above-average regulars. The most obvious farmhand in this category is Kyle Tucker. There’s a decent chance, if you give him 600 PAs, he outperforms White, Gurriel, and Reddick at the plate. He just turned 22, however, and there’s no rush to bring him up. If the team is struggling, he might be used to ignite the offense. But, as mentioned above, there’s nowhere to put guys but the DL or the waiver wire. An injury to any OF regular probably means it’s Tucker Time. The other guy who fits this bill is Yordan Alvarez. But due to his youth, defensive limitations, and non-spot on the 40-man, it’s unlikely he’d impact the team before September. Seth Beer seems similar to Alvarez, but would have to crush AA to force his way into such a conversation.
Fourth category: Tyler White 2.0. These are guys with no pedigree, but who’ve forced their way up based on crushing the baseball. I’m looking at you, Nick Tanielu. Tanielu is coming off a huge spring, is 26 and healthy for the first time since 2016. Mayfield is even older, and stalled at AAA. Mayfield has been barely average at AAA, but he has always seemed viable in ST when I catch him on TV. Maybe two IF get injured around the same time, and the Astros roll the dice with two weeks of Mayfield? Maybe he walks off a game? Ditto for Tanielu.