2009 Houston Astros Preview: Outfield
The Astros have never really had an outfield superstar that has been produced by its minor league farm clubs and although there are a few prospects in the system at class AA Corpus Christi, Brian Bogusevic, Mitch Einertson and Eli Iorg, that show promise in the future, don’t expect anyone to surprise this year. I know most of the Astros home-town fans will point to Hunter Pence, but let me say that although Pence is a good player, he has yet to produce and shine like a superstar. Since the Astros haven’t produced an outfield superstar lately, they have traded for a good one in Carlos Lee, and you won’t get many complaints from me on that one ... except for his defense. So let’s dive right into this season’s outfield preview.
Carlos Lee – ‘El Caballo’ was having an MVP caliber season before it was so rudely interrupted by a fractured finger. Although the fracture was not a serious injury, it required surgery and sidelined Lee for the remainder of the season. Lee reports to camp ready to play, healthy and chomping at the bit ... no pun intended ... to prove that he is still able to put up a 30+ homer season. Lee has put up 30+ HR and 100 or more RBI in five of the last six seasons and we have every reason to believe that he will do it again this season. Carlos will team up with fellow slugger Lance Berkman in the middle of the Astros lineup hoping to slug their way into the NL Central pennant race. Carlos is a defensive liability as he is not swift on his feet or quick on the base paths, so don’t expect him to be legging out long fly balls or stretch a double into a triple.
Michael Bourn – In his first full MLB season Bourn ripped off a .229 average with a mind blowing .288 OBP, and if you are noticing that there is a bit of sarcasm, you’d have hit the nail on the head. The first year of the Bourn Experiment did not go over well at all in Houston. I am not completely sold on Bourn. He is a free swinger and failed to show any kind of discipline at the plate. Bourn played in the Venezuelan league this past off season and showed better discipline, but it is still a far cry away from being a premier leadoff hitter in the majors. Bourn is fast enough for the leadoff spot and proved more than capable at being a superior base stealer with 41 swipes last season. Cooper has stated that Bourn will still be the everyday centerfielder, but he is planning on moving him down in the order to relieve the pressure of being the leadoff spot, which will go to Matsui.
Hunter Pence – Last year, Pence’s sophomore campaign, Hunter posted a nice .269 / 25 / 83. Many scouts chalked up his .316 OBP to the sophomore slump and it appears that he was just trying too hard at times. Expect Pence to bounce back in a big way this season as he will probably continue to bat in the 5 or 6 spot in the batting order. Cooper has hinted that he could possibly bat second, which would be ideal. If Pence continues to develop patience at the plate he could become one of the premier outfielders in baseball. Pence ranked fifth amongst all RF in baseball in homers besting better known players, so the talent is there. It would hard to believe that Pence, now entering his third full season, is going to regress.
RESERVES : The Astros bring back Darren Erstad and Reggie Abercombie to help spell the regulars. Botha re capable hitters and fielders and can produce when needed. If the Bourn Experiment goes awry again this year, you could expect to see Erstad starting in RF and Pence moving back to CF.
The Astros have a good to above average outfield defensively, but the offense is not in question. If Lee stays healthy, Pence continues to be more selective and patient at the plate and Bourn figures out how to hit, this could be one of the more productive offensive outfields in all of baseball. That is a lot of if’s, I know, but it could happen and it needs to happen if the Astros are going to be contenders this year or pretenders for yet another season.
By: Jordan Fleck
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