Ever since George Springer departed for Toronto following the 2020 season, the Astros have had a rotating ensemble cast in center field. The results, much like certain television series when the main lead also leaves, have been varying between Myles Straw, Jose Siri, Chas McCormick, Jake Meyers, and Mauricio Dubón. This development isn’t necessarily a surprise as Springer has compiled the second-highest WAR (33.0 fWAR) for a center fielder since his debut in 2014, trailing only Mike Trout by 29(!) wins. Unless the club acquired another bonafide star center fielder, there was always going to be an immediate drop-off. Interestingly enough, thanks to strong defense, Houston ranks eighth in center field WAR (8.4 fWAR); however, their collective offense is below average (93 wRC+) for the position.
For the Astros, the short-term plan was to give multiple dudes at least a look. First, it was Straw, the speedster with little power. Then-general manager James Click also signed the defensively talented, yet offensively inconsistent Siri to a minor league deal before 2021 as a lottery ticket of sorts. Both were traded in back-to-back trade deadlines as McCormick, Meyers, or some combination thereof essentially created a logjam by their performance. Dubón was initially acquired early last season as another backup infielder following Niko Goodrum’s lackluster stint, but Dusty Baker eventually had him in center field on a somewhat consistent basis for defensive purposes, especially when Justin Verlander was on the mound.
By process of elimination, trades, and generally suboptimal offensive numbers, the competition — if we can even call it that right now — has now essentially whittled down to McCormick and Meyers. Despite a strong close to last season and a couple of postseason heroics, McCormick’s struggles against right-handed hitters — 95 wRC+ in 548 plate appearances — leave something to be desired. But Meyers hasn’t looked the same since tearing the labrum in his left shoulder in the 2021 ALDS against the White Sox. Whether the shoulder is still bothering him or if the Astros are still mesmerized by his tools, it is clear the organization will give Meyers every chance until proven otherwise. That said, it took him looking lost last season and in the first couple of games of 2023 for Baker and the organization to finally let McCormick have a chance, at least on a short-term basis.
But McCormick’s hot-ish start to the season — .259/.355/.519 in 31 plate appearances — along with Meyers’ slow start in his first 15 plate appearances has perhaps forced Baker’s hand, split stats be damned. While we can’t expect McCormick to carry the offense often as he did on Sunday, the fact that Baker has inserted him as the leadoff hitter recently at least signals that management is open to ideas as long as Jose Altuve and Michael Brantley are out. The age-28 outfielder may not have the highest ceiling in the organization — Drew Gilbert has now entered the chat — McCormick, at the very least, represents a high-floor option for the short term.
The next couple of months will likely be vital for the Astros in their assessment of the center field position. Meyers may begin to swing the bat well again, as he showed signs of doing in Spring Training, but he has to demonstrate some consistent progress. McCormick’s batted ball peripherals to start this season also haven’t looked great; however, as we’re only about to enter mid-April, I wouldn’t value those figures more than as a mere curiosity at this point. As I mentioned in this year’s Starting Nine season predictions, I think Dana Brown could acquire a center fielder by the trade deadline to bolster the position if McCormick and Meyers struggle for prolonged periods. This isn’t based on any inside knowledge, but the fact that Brown is new to the organization means he may look to make a change sooner than say someone like Click, especially as it pertains to Meyers. But, without a doubt, McCormick ought to remain the starting center fielder until this status quo changes. He has earned that much considering his performance during the past calendar year.