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Drew Gilbert Is Climbing The Ladder

The Astros may finally have their center fielder of the future in the form of a top prospect. But his ETA is still to be determined.

MLB: Spring Training-Houston Astros Workouts Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

In general, I don’t write much about prospects. It isn’t necessarily due to not knowing about them; rather, it is more about feeling that I don’t have much to add to the conversation. There are plenty of prospect writers out there, including some talented guys on staff here with The Crawfish Boxes, who do an excellent job breaking down those players. But there are instances where I feel like I do have something to share, especially as we take a look at organizational direction. As it relates to top prospect Drew Gilbert — recently promoted to Double-A Corpus Christi amid a strong start to his season — and the direction for the center field position, it feels like a conversation worth having now.

It is no secret that center field has been a bit of a revolving door since George Springer signed with the Blue Jays prior to the 2021 season. The task of replacing him was never an easy one. While Myles Straw, Chas McCormick, Jose Siri, Jake Meyers, and Mauricio Dubón have all played the position at some point since 2021, with varying levels of success, none reached heights of Springer’s peak in Houston. Of the group, McCormick has been the only one to provide consistent production at the plate and on the field, in addition to an incredible catch in the World Series that will live forever in franchise lore. But for as much as we all love heroics in the postseason, McCormick doesn’t appear to have the complete favor of management, for some reason or another. Meyers has shown some of the flashes he did prior to his shoulder injury in the 2021 postseason, but that inconsistency remains.

The organization under James Click and now Dana Brown continues to look for their definition of a long-term answer for the position. Enter Drew Gilbert, the Astros’ first-round selection last year, who was recently promoted to Double-A following a hot start to his season in Class A+ Asheville (1.107 OPS with 6 HR and 11 doubles in 21 games). Considering Dana Brown’s comments about Gilbert earlier this year, in addition to this torrid start, it is becoming increasingly clear that Houston views the Tennessee product as a potential long-term fixture in the outfield, particularly center field. A left-handed hitter with some power, it is becoming clear that Gilbert possesses a hit tool that could one day translate well to the major leagues, especially if his knack for barrelling the baseball remains intact. Strikeouts are something to watch, but whenever I see a highlight of Gilbert pop up on my timeline, I make it a point to stop and watch.

So, how does Gilbert affect the 2023 Astros? Not much, honestly. I still think there is a small possibility that the organization acquires another center fielder in the near future if they determine an upgrade over McCormick and Meyers is possible. However, with the rash of injuries to the starting rotation, I think Brown would be better served to acquire pitching depth to help them through the long season. Plus, with Gilbert’s climb up the minor league ladder, I wonder if the Astros will hold off making any long-term determinations at the position, at least in terms of external options. After all, both McCormick and Meyers are not anywhere close to free agency and the organization has proved that they could win with them as their two center fielders.

But Brown’s recent comments in addition to Gilbert’s play to start the season has shifted my opinion about how quickly Houston makes a change in center field in favor of the long game right now with their top prospect. As long as McCormick and Meyers, with a little bit of Dubón, continues to provide enough production, I think the Astros will stick with the current arrangement a bit longer, at least until Gilbert’s ETA becomes increasingly clear. While a debut this season feels out of reach, at his current rate, a debut in mid-to-late 2024 or 2025 feels realistic at this juncture.