Dependent on the outcome of the ongoing — or lack of — labor negotiations, Spring Training is tentatively scheduled to commence with pitchers and catchers reporting in the middle of February. Five weeks, give or take a couple of days for individual clubs. Those report dates are still very much in the air, but it does provide a bit of a spark as we inch further into the new year.
For the Astros in 2022, much of the table in terms of roster construction appears set. Outside of the obvious Carlos Correa-size caveat at shortstop, this roster doesn’t require much in terms of heavy lifting. But there is a bit of internal flux about the outfield, particularly concerning the center field position. Hence today’s article, which will serve as a preview of sorts.
To get right to it, who are the primary contenders for the center field job? Depends exactly on who you ask. Jake Meyers, the presumed favorite in my mind, will be unavailable entering the season as he recovers from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. It’s a shame considering how Meyers is considered a plus-defender in center field and burst onto the scene offensively last year with a 147 wRC+ in Triple-A followed by a 111 wRC+ in 49 Major League games to close out the season. While his sample size, in particular his high BABIP, limits the overall optimism, one can’t deny the strides he made as a hitter. His power — 22 home runs in 467 plate appearances — turned plenty of heads considering he only hit 20 dingers from 2017-19.
But, in essence, this injury development limits Houston to two center field options to open the 2022 season: Chas McCormick and Jose Siri. As with Meyers, both McCormick and Siri are considered solid defenders at the least in center field with above-average tendencies. The latter probably more so than the former, but McCormick’s offensive output in the majors — 109 wRC+ in 320 plate appearances — is difficult to ignore. While struggles followed thanks in part to a hand injury in late August, the overall strides could solidify his place as a contributor on the active roster. But the same can be said about Siri as his Triple-A numbers made him into a minor league fan favorite. Plus, his power potential likely exceeds both Meyers and McCormick’s.
The biggest drawback in Siri’s profile are his swing-and-miss tendencies. A 0.21 walk-to-strikeout ratio is going to look ugly, no matter the level. But when he did make contact, good results usually followed as evidenced by his .552 slugging percentage and 125 wRC+. While 49 Major League plate appearances isn’t enough of a sample size in itself, his 2 percent walk rate in conjunction with a 34.7 percent strikeout rate further highlights his key weak spot as a hitter based on past Minor League performance.
It shouldn’t be overlooked that Siri was trusted with additional playing time in the postseason in light of Meyers’ injury and his performance in Game 2 of the World Series provided a spark for the Astros on that day. If the performance between McCormick and Siri is decent enough and roughly equal in Spring Training, I can see a scenario where Siri is the starter to open the upcoming season for manager Dusty Baker.
Of course, a (light) center field preview wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the possibility of Kyle Tucker manning that area of the outfield to some degree. While the defensive alignment would suffer in this scenario with Michael Brantley in right and Yordan Alvarez in left, it does allow additional flexibility at DH for the Astros. I have my doubts whether we’ll see this alignment much though, especially if the NL adopts the DH rule.