HOUSTON — As if he were affixing a cherry on top of the sundae that was the weekend sweep of American League West rival Los Angeles, Astros manager A.J. Hinch, unprompted, shared some important news before the assembled media vacated his postgame presser on Sunday.
The Astros (54-44), 10 games above .500 for the first time this season, were promoting top prospect Alex Bregman so he could make his major league debut against the Yankees Monday at Minute Maid Park.
Bregman, the second overall pick of the 2015 draft, has lived up to the hype that came with his selection. In his first full professional season, Bregman opened 2016 with Double-A Corpus Christi and hit .297/.415/.559 with 14 home runs and 46 RBIs in 62 games. After earning a promotion to Triple-A Fresno, Bregman hit .356/.397/.685 with six homers and 15 RBIs in 17 games. His bat has earned raves throughout scouting circles and when midseason prospect rankings were recently released, Bregman was ranked first overall by ESPN.
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Seemingly the only thing slowing his promotion was determining where Bregman would play defensively. A shortstop by trade, Bregman was blocked by Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year. At second base, the Astros employ Jose Altuve, who is in the running for AL Most Valuable Player honors. After joining Fresno, Bregman played third base and left field to prepare for the inevitable.
“We wanted a couple extra innings in left field, at third base,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “We accomplished that over the weekend. It's never going to be enough when you're trying to teach somebody a different position to play. We feel like his time's now to come up and add whatever he can to a good clubhouse, a good team and not have to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders as a young player.”
Left-hander Dallas Keuchel (6-9, 4.70 ERA) will start for the Astros. Keuchel is 1-0 with a 2.57 ERA against the Yankees (50-48) this season and 3-1 with a 1.45 ERA in four career starts against them. He is riding a three-game winning streak and enjoying a stretch of six consecutive quality starts, posting a 3-2 record and 2.79 ERA during that span.
Right-hander Michael Pineda (4-9, 5.25 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Pineda earned the win against the Astros on April 6, the beneficiary of an offensive explosion that yielded a 16-6 victory. Pineda allowed six runs on eight hits with five strikeouts over five innings.
The Yankees capped a series win over the NL West-leading Giants on Sunday with a 5-2 victory. The Yankees have won 8 of 12 since last dropping two games under .500.
Distractions are a part of playing for the Yankees and recent weeks have been no different with rampant trade speculation following the club as it spins its wheels in the postseason chase.
“We don't want to be broken up,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “We want a chance to fight and fight but we need to play better is the bottom line.”