Monday, January 14, 2013

Astros Minor League Depth - First Base

It's time to take a look at the Astros minor league depth, position by position, as we approach Spring Training. Today, we will look at the first basemen in the organization who had the best seasons in 2012.

The embedded chart shows first basemen in the organization ranked from high to low in terms of OPS. I have noted their current age, the last level at which they played and, if they spent significant time at multiple positions, that information is included as well. I am not including players who spent time at the major league level in 2012, such as Brett Wallace.

Erik Castro, who barely leads this list over Jonathan Singleton, divided his time almost equally between 1B and DH in 2012. I would caution against those who are inclined to dismiss Castro as a prospect because of the "Lancaster effect" and the fact that he will be 25 going in to the 2013 season. He was 100% healthy in 2012 for the first time since injury sidetracked his career in 2010. I can certainly see Castro successfully moving up in the system in 2013. He may even get back to playing third base as well which would only add to his versatility and value to the organization. One key for him is to cut down on his strikeout rate.

At first glance, you may be unimpressed by Zach Johnson's .238 batting average, but look a little closer. Johnson was tied with Castro for an organization-leading 108 RBI. He got those RBI any way he could, including grounding into force outs and an organization-leading 14 sac flies, and productive outs don't exactly boost a player's batting average. His 38 doubles ranked in the organization behind only the 39 doubles hit by Brandon Barnes before his call-up to Houston. 

The only one of these players who is new to the organization is Michael Martinez, a 2012 draftee who had a solid debut season with Greeneville. Jesse Wierzbicki in his second season with the Astros and Rafael Valenzuela in his third year both had good seasons as well. Valenzuela was an integral part of the Lancaster team's late run to the playoffs and Wierzbicki was named MVP of the Tri-City team.

One surprise for me from this list was that Jean Batista actually spent more time at first base than he did at either of the middle infield positions as he has in the past. It may just be a temporary situation as players jockey for playing time, but interesting to watch in any event.

Jonathan Singleton, of course, just got popped with a 50-game suspension for testing positive for what has been widely reported as marijuana. He will be allowed to participate in Spring Training, and his suspension will start once the season begins.

One player who doesn't appear on this list who will bear watching in 2013 is Chase Davidson. He only played in a handful of games in 2012, all at DH, before sitting out the remainder of the season with an undisclosed injury. When I interviewed Jeff Luhnow in November, he mentioned that he was eager to see what Davidson could do once healthy.

Tuesday: Second Base

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