Over the last couple of weeks, I've talked to John Manuel of Baseball America, Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com and others about many of the players in the Astros farm system, both prospect and non-prospect alike. One phrase kept coming up time and time again. "This is going to be a big year for (fill-in-the-blank)." I found myself saying it as well.
With the Astros depth increasing, players will need to step up to keep up. For some, it may be a matter of staying healthy. For some, it will be recapturing earlier promise. For some, it will be taking that next step developmentally. Here are just a few position players for whom THIS IS GOING TO BE A BIG YEAR.
1B/DH Chase Davidson
Davidson turned 23 in January and has only played 53 games professionally to date. Davidson was originally drafted in the third round by the Astros in 2008 but did not sign; they re-drafted him in 2011 in the 41st round. In his first season, he hit .327/.417/.630 with 13 doubles, two triples, 11 home runs and 44 RBI in 44 games. He also struck out 53 times. In 2012, he only appeared in nine games with Tri-City in June before disappearing off the radar for the remainder of the year. At 23, he will need to get healthy, stay healthy and move quickly through the system before time starts working against him.
SS Jonathan Villar
Yes, Villar has all of the tools but he has yet to put them all together consistently. He needs to show more focus defensively. He has a tendency to speed up the game and make mental errors in the field. Prior to breaking his hand in July, Villar's bat did show signs of coming around but he lost valuable developmental time. Villar won't turn 22 until May so he still has plenty of time to put it all together, but if he doesn't take that next step forward, he could find himself jockeying for position in the Astros depth charts.
SS Jio Mier
Speaking of which, Jio Mier could be the one to challenge Villar, but he has to stay healthy and he has to continue the progress he made last season (before a bad hamstring injury) and later in the Arizona Fall League. He missed a large chunk of the 2012 season due to the injury, but it appeared that he was finally putting things together at the plate, hitting .292/.396/.409 at Lancaster and .297/.333/.422 in the Arizona Fall League. If Villar falters and Mier continues his progress and stays healthy, things could get interesting. Mier won't be 23 until August. Did I mention that he really needs to stay healthy?
C/OF Mike Kvasnicka
I'm not even sure where to start with Kvasnicka. His development seems to have been stunted by his moves from catcher to third base back to catcher and now, apparently, to right field. Kvasnicka had a horrible start to his 2012 season, but seemed to have gotten into a groove at the plate about the time he was moved to right field. He also found his home run stroke, tripling his home run output from prior years. But the fact remains that he is 24 years old and hasn't gotten above Low A yet. He will need to come to Spring Training prepared to show that he belongs and will need to contribute immediately wherever he is placed.
1B/DH Telvin Nash
Telvin Nash just turned 22 last month. He needs to do two things. He needs to replicate his home run power outside the hitter-friendly confines of Lancaster and he needs to cut down on the strikeouts. If Nash is promoted to AA this season, I think he will find that the more advanced pitchers will take advantage of the holes in his swing. He will have to find a way to adjust. The recent news that Nash lost 30 pounds during the offseason tells me that he is highly motivated. That is encouraging.
Next week I'll look at a few pitchers for whom THIS IS GOING TO BE A VERY BIG YEAR.