Astros face a classic baseball question: Who’s on 1st?
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) The Houston Astros haven’t been set at first base since Lance Berkman was traded in 2010.
With eyes on a pennant, they know they’ll have to do something about that. The problem: There’s no clear answer.
”This is my third year here and we’ve never really felt like we’ve been very stable at first,” manager A.J. Hinch said.
The best candidate this season is Yulieski Gurriel , whom the Astros signed to a $47.5 million, five-year deal in July after he spent 15 years playing in Cuba. Primarily a third baseman, the 32-year-old Gurriel never played first before appearing there in five of his 36 games for Houston last season.
”The crash course on first base started last year in September,” Hinch said. ”He’ll adapt. He’s got to learn some of the positioning, some of the responsibilities. It will be a challenge for him just because it’s all brand new for him, but he’s good enough to do it.”
The Astros want Gurriel’s bat in the lineup and have Alex Bregman, the second overall pick in the 2015 draft, at third base. Gurriel was one of the best hitters in Cuba in his 15 seasons there, hitting .335 with 250 homers and 1,018 RBIs. In his last season in Cuba in 2015, he hit .500 with 15 homers and 51 RBIs in just 49 games.
He cooled off while adjusting to the majors last season, but still hit .262 with three homers and 15 RBIs.
The Astros have penciled in Gurriel to open the season at first. But Hinch says several players could be used at first depending on what they do this spring.
”We may have a revolving door from a platoon standpoint at first now, so if that’s my only problem so to speak then I can certainly adapt to that,” Hinch said. ”But it would be nice to have somebody step up and take the job.”
Utility player Marwin Gonzalez will certainly see time at first after starting 92 games there last season. A.J. Reed, Tyler White, Colin Moran and nonroster invitee Jon Singleton will also get a look this spring.
Reed failed to produce as a rookie last season. The Astros expected big things after he hit .291 with 15 homers and 50 RBIs in 70 games with Triple-A Fresno. He was called up June 25, but once in the majors hit just .164 in 45 games.
”He’s got to hit his way to being relevant on our team,” Hinch said. ”He knows that. He knows coming in that he had a partial season where he’s gotten his feet wet at the big league level and it hasn’t gone perfectly for him.”
Reed wants to use last season as a tool.
”Just take it as a learning opportunity,” he said. ”Learn from what I wasn’t doing right and what I was doing right and just try to make it better and take advantage of opportunities this year.”
Moran also struggled in his time in Houston last season, though he got far less of a look than Reed. Moran, who was the sixth overall pick in the 2013 draft, hit just .130 in nine games with the Astros.
White got off to a strong start last season, hitting .250 with five homers and 14 RBIs in the first month. Things began to taper off in May and by June he wasn’t starting. When he did get an opportunity, he struggled and hit .115 in eight games that month.
He rebounded late in the season, but didn’t show enough to enter camp as a front-runner for the job after hitting .217 with eight homers and 28 RBIs in 86 games.
The last player in the mix at first base is Singleton. Once thought to be Houston’s future at first base, the 25-year-old was taken off the 40-man roster and outrighted to Fresno this offseason. The left-hander signed a five-year, $10 million contract in 2014 before making his Astros debut. He has never played a full season in the majors.
Singleton hit .168 with 13 homers and 44 RBIs as a rookie in 2014 and .191 in 19 games the following season. He didn’t play in the majors last year and had the worst average of his minor league career, hitting .202 at Fresno.
He has an idea of how to turn things around.
”Just being productive on a daily basis no matter what I do,” he said. ”I just think that’s the biggest thing.”