Back before the season started, I was listening to the radio broadcast of the Corpus Christi Hooks/Houston Astros exhibition game and one of the guests was Fred Nelson, the Director of Player Development for the Houston organization. Nelson was effusive in his praise of T.J. Steele, talking about what a great spring he'd had and how Steele was poised to do great things in 2012. Didn't I read something last year about the same time in which Nelson said basically the same thing? It appears that I did.
Nelson blamed Steele's lack of production in 2010 in Corpus Christi on injuries that had limited his playing time. Yet in 2011, despite playing in 118 games (51 more than in 2010), he was actually worse at the plate except for a somewhat improved slugging percentage. So how exactly is this "five-tool player" doing in 2012? In 11 games, he is hitting .143/.225/.314. As of Saturday night, he was hitless in his last six games, had zero stolen bases, one outfield assist and one error. To make matters worse, Steele had a fly out and a strikeout in two separate bases-loaded opportunities on Saturday.
Yes, I realize that it is a small sample size, but Steele will be 26 in September and has shown nothing to even remotely convince me that he is a five-tool player. Last season, the Astros blogosphere perceived that Steele was blocking Austin Wates from being promoted to Corpus Christi and were, in my opinion, justifiably upset by that perception. How has Wates done so far this season since his long-awaited promotion? He's hitting .339/.403/.446 over 14 games. I think it's safe to say that he is handling AA pitching just fine so far and would likely have handled it fine last season as well.
How long do you give Steele before you have the "it's not you, it's me" conversation and admit that the relationship is just not working? I don't know the answer to that one because I'm not privy to any super-secret black magic Decision Science juju. Presumably the juju that is responsible for Steele getting another chance is the same juju that sent Adam Bailey from the Corpus Christi opening day roster down to Lancaster without getting a single at bat. Despite Bailey's slow start, which of the two would you rather see roaming the outfield at Whataburger field?
2010 Steele (CC)
67G .228/.259/.315 9-2B 3-3B 2HR 18RBI 6.7SO/BB 9SB 3A 0E
2010 Bailey (TCV)
66G .235/.273/.359 15-2B 1-3B 4HR 33RBI 3.9SO/BB 3SB 7A 0E
2011 Steele (CC)
118G .214/.249/.354 17-2B 4-3B 11HR 55RBI 7.1SO/BB 20SB 9A 4E
2011 Bailey (LEX/LAN/CC*)
132G .291/.327/.478 24-2B 2-3B 24HR 95RBI 3.8SO/BB 2SB 21A 6E
*Played 79 games at Lexington, 30 games at Lancaster and ended the season with 23 games at Corpus Christi.
2012 Steele (CC)
11G .143/.225/.314 1-2B 1-3B 1HR 6RBI 3.8SO/BB 0SB 1A 1E
2012 Bailey (LAN)
14G .236/.276/.364 4-2B 0-3B 1HR 3RBI 5.3SO/BB 1SB 1A 0E
Even though Adam Bailey has had a slow start in 2012, he is about 18 months younger than Steele, was listed as the #31 Astros prospect by Baseball America in the off-season and just came off a 95 RBI season in which he hit successfully at three separate levels, including AA. Perhaps his slow start justifies the demotion to Hi-A, or perhaps the last minute demotion rattled his confidence (somehow I doubt the latter because he's a very composed and confident young man). But in any event, I would personally prefer seeing Adam Bailey get the chance, even if he struggles initially, than to keep giving chance after chance to Steele.
I may end up being proven dead wrong. T.J. Steele could start hitting like a man possessed tomorrow. And if he does, I will pull for him like any other Astros player. However, if he is still struggling to get/stay above the Mendoza line two months from now, and better players are still being blocked by him, I will not be very happy about it. And, come next March, if I hear Fred Nelson singing Steele's praises after another sub-par season, I will be downright angry.