2009 Houston Astros Preview: Infield
The Houston Astros were a middle of the pack offense in the National League last year, which fell way short of the pre-season expectations. By adding Miguel Tejada and Kaz Matsui to the lineup, Ed Wade and Drayton McLane were hoping for a bit more production, especially considering that we gave up half the prospects in the farm system and a fan favorite in Luke Scott for Tejada alone. Tejada started off strong but fizzled in the latter part of the season and Matsui just couldn’t seem to stay healthy for the full season as he battled back, hamstring and anal fissure issues ... yes, I said anal fissures. So, where does this leave us for this year? Well, here is the 2009, Houston Astros Infield Preview.
First Base : Lance Berkman continues to be the leader of this group, and the offensive force as well. His OPS (.986) last year ranked 5 TH in baseball as he notched his third straight 100+ RBI season, falling only one dinger shy of his third consecutive 30+ HR season. Berkman fails to get the national recognition that he deserves because he plays first base in the NL Central against another well known slugger in Albert Pujols. Berkman wouldn’t have it any other way. Lance ‘Big Puma’ Berkman is a rare combination of patience, power and speed for a first baseman. He was among the top five in baseball in walks last year while leading all first sackers in SB’s with 18 in 22 chances. Berkman is a fan favorite in Houston and will continue to put up strong offensive number again this year.
Second Base : Kazuo Matsui was productive when he was in the lineup. The problem is that he was only in the lineup for 96 games. He battled hamstring and back issues throughout the season which hampered his offensive production. He is a slick fielder and is excellent at turning the double play. Matsui always makes good contact and shows good ability to get on base. He needs to prove to the organization that he is truly healthy this year, as manager Cecil Copper has hinted about the possibility of batting Matsui in the leadoff position.
Short Stop : Miguel Tejada had off-field problems when the Astros traded for him last year, and for the price that the Astros paid, they certainly did not, I repeat, DID NOT, get their money’s worth. Tejada jumped out to what many thought was going to be a rebound season for him, but he faded considerably down the stretch. Tejada tallied 13 HR’s and 66 RBI’s ... well short of expectations. With this off season’s revelations about his steroid use now in the forefront and his pending disciplinary action from the US Government and MLB, one can only speculate on how Tejada will perform this season. I can say with certainty that we can still expect a .275 / 15 / 70 line from him this year.
Third Base : Ty Wigginton manned the hot corner last year, but with his arbitration salary figures expected to be around 7 million this season, the Astros cut him loose. Geoff Blum now gets his chance to play everyday ... well, sort of. The Astros signed Aaron Boone to provide protection and a capable bat in case Blum falters. The question is what happens if both Blum and Boone fall flat on their faces? The Astros do have options in the Farm System. Mark Saccomanno slugged 27 HR’s for AAA Round Rock last year, proving he could be a capable slugger at the next level. Chris Johnson shined last year while batting .324 and hitting 12 HR’s in 84 games for AA corpus Christi before being called up to AAA Round Rock. If Blum or Boone falls flat, a youth movement in the Astros infield could come sooner than expected.
Catcher : JR Towles was the number 1 catcher last year and Brad Ausmus was supposed to be his mentor. Well, when you hit .146, you are not going to stay on the Big Club for long, and Towles was demoted. Ausmus resumed his duties as the frontline catcher and Humberto Quintero filled in capably when needed. Gone is Ausmus, who signed a 1 year deal with the Dodgers, who takes his ability to call a game with him. Ausmus was extremely underrated as a catcher and while he did not compile a long list of eye popping stats he proved day in and day out that he was the best catcher in the majors at handling a pitching staff. That facet of the game will be sorely missed this year in Houston. Towles and Quintero return to battle for two positions on the 25 man roster to open the season. The Astros also brought in veteran Toby Hall and Rule 5 Pick Lou Palmisano for a chance behind the plate as well. Hall and Quintero are not frontline catchers and they never will be. This is the only open race in camp and it will be interesting to see what two players can step it up and prove they belong on the roster. It will only be a stop gap solution as uber-prospect catcher, Jason Castro, is auditioning this spring for a starting job in 2010.
The Astros faithful surely miss the production and leadership of Biggio and Bagwell, and with Tejada and Matsui in the final year of their respective contracts, it could point to a youth movement. It is likely that the Astros could have a rookie SS, 2B, 3B and C in 2010. The 2009 Astros infield is not going produce awe inspiring numbers this year, but they will be productive and sound defensively.
By: Jordan Fleck
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