Friday, March 9, 2018

Beyond the Astros Top 30: Utility Players

As the old year fades away and the new season approaches, it's time to start looking at those players of interest who are beyond the Astros Top 30 (or 32 ... see below). These players may not ever make a Top 30 list (or they may), but a combination of projections, actual results, incremental improvements and intangibles keep them in the mix as interesting players to watch. I am not including any players in these posts who have already made their major league debuts since, presumably, anyone reading my blog is already very familiar with those players.

Now that all of the major players (Baseball Prospectus, FanGraphs, MLB Pipeline and Baseball America) have weighed in with their Astros Top Prospect Lists, I've integrated all of the rankings into one consensus top prospect ranking that includes 32 Astros players (16 were ranked on all four lists, nine were on three of four and the final seven were on two of four). I highly recommend checking out the included links for all of the great information provided.

Unsurprisingly, there are no true utility players on the current Astros top prospect lists since top prospects are generally projected at a specific position. Marwin Gonzalez, one of the best utility players to ever put on a uniform for the Astros, was ranked by Baseball America at #20 in 2012, but he was expected to play middle infield back then. Most utility players fall into that category more by need than by design, but their value to a team can be immense. Here are a few Astros farm hands who have shown the versatility and flexibility to contribute where needed.

UTILITY PLAYERS BEYOND THE TOP 30 (in alphabetical order)

Jack Mayfield - September 2014
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Marcos Almonte (R/R)
Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2014 for $35,000, Almonte played his fourth professional season with the Low A Quad Cities team. In 84 games, he hit .248/.276/.382 with 14 doubles, one triple, nine home runs and 11 stolen bases (8 caught stealing). He started the season off really well, batting .314/.344/.529 in 31 games in April and May which led to his Midwest League All-Star selection, but then struggled as the season unfolded, ending it on the DL. Almonte played at six different positions in 2017 with the most time spent at second base and in left field where he displayed the strongest defensive abilities. The biggest knock on Almonte is that, as he has climbed the ranks, his walk rate has fallen and his strikeout rate has risen. That is something he will have to work on if he wants to remain in the mix, but with his ability to make contact to all fields, run a little and display some decent power, I find him to be an interesting player. He will be 22 later this month and, entering his fifth pro season, will need to start moving more quickly up the ladder.
Key: Reverse his walk-to-strikeout rate trend and stay healthy!

Rodrigo Ayarza (S/R)
Originally, I wasn't going to include Ayarza in this post, mainly because he will be headed into his seventh season of pro ball in 2018 and just recently turned 23, making the calendar more enemy than friend, but I decided to ignore that for a moment to acknowledge pretty darn good seasons from him in 2017 and in Australia this past winter (summer for Aussies). Ayarza started his season with 37 games at Low A Quad Cities hitting a robust .316/.345/.544, leading to his June 1st promotion to High A Buies Creek. He struggled somewhat after the promotion and ended up missing a month of the season from late June to late July, but was coming on strong at the end of the season. In 40 games down under, he collected a  .292/.324/.476 batting line. Ayarza played five positions in 2017, contributing his mostly solid defense primarily at second base, left field and third base. A switch-hitter, Ayarza hits for more power from the left -- 16 of his 20 doubles and all eight of his home runs in 2017 came from the left -- but hits for average almost as well from the right as from the left. Ayarza isn't a base-stealing threat and rarely walks, but he does make consistent contact from both sides of the plate. Ayarza was signed as a minor league free agent in 2014 following his release by the Rangers organization. He was originally signed by the Rangers out of Panama in 2011.
Key: Work on his on-base skills while figuring out a way to turn back the hands of time. [UPDATE: Ayarza was released prior to the 2018 season.]

Jack Mayfield (R/R)
Mayfield, a non-drafted free agent signed in 2013 out of the University of Oklahoma, has often been overshadowed by his high draft pick teammates, but if you looked closely, you would find him on the California League All-Star roster alongside A.J. Reed and Brett Phillips in 2015 and on the Texas League All-Star roster alongside J.D. Davis, Garrett Stubbs and others in 2017. Mayfield divided the 2017 season between Corpus Christi (70 games) and Fresno (42 games), hitting a combined .283/.327/.500 with 28 doubles, two triples and a career high 20 home runs. He can expand the field at times, but most of his power is pull-heavy. Mayfield also doesn't walk a lot, but manages to get consistent hard contact and limits his strikeouts to a manageable level. Defensively, Mayfield is limited to the infield where he is better at the middle infield positions, but can hang in there at third. Mayfield's biggest asset, though, is probably his determination to do everything within his power to help win a game. He won't give up an at-bat and he won't bail on a possible double-play with the runner coming in hard. I know it's cliche, but he's going to give you 100% every time.
Key: Consistency. He had a pretty consistent season in 2017 and, if he can replicate that, it will go a long way in proving his value.

Others to Watch (in alphabetical order):

There were also several other players noted in prior posts who could play up in utility roles. Click on previous post links below for more info on these players

Alfredo Angarita (2B Post): 2017 appearances - 2B-14, SS-12, 3B-8, LF-3, RF-1, CF-1
Jose Carrillo (C Post): 2017 appearances - C-26, 1B-22, SS-1, 3B-1
Jeury Castillo (2B Post): 2017 appearances - 2B-31, 3B-17, SS-1, LF-1
Alex DeGoti (2B Post): 2017 appearances - 2B-50, SS-39, 3B-12
Drew Ferguson (CF Post): 2017 appearances - CF-55, LF-35, RF-21
Sean Mendoza (3B Post): 2017 appearances - 3B-23, LF-16, 2B-14, SS-8, CF-6, 1B-1
Kendy Moya (LF Post): 2017 appearances - LF-35, 2B-17, 3B-5, SS-3, RF-2, P-1
Josh Rojas (3B Post): 2017 appearances - 3B-30, 2B-22, SS-3, LF-1
Kristian Trompiz (SS Post): 2017 appearances - SS-44, 2B-24, 3B-10, 1B-5, LF-1
Ronaldo Urdaneta (2B Post): 2017 appearances - 2B-19, CF-17, SS-12, LF-6, 3B-5

Previous Posts:
Second Base
First Base

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