Astros position breakdown: shortstop

Our latest Astros position-by-position breakdown takes a look at shortstop, a position the Astros are going to be looking to upgrade offensively in the offseason:

SHORTSTOP

2010 Opening Day starter: Tommy Manzella.

2010 end-of-season starters: Tommy Manzella and Angel Sanchez.

Others who were in the mix in 2010: Jeff Keppinger, Geoff Blum, Anderson Hernandez, Matt Downs, Oswaldo Navarro.

Combined 2010 stats of Astros shortstops: .260 BA/.312 OBP/.321 SLG, 22 doubles, 2 homers, 54 RBIs, 40 walks, 127 strikeouts, 585 at-bats.

Free agents: Anderson Hernandez (Minor League).

Arbitration eligible: None.

What happened: The Astros went into last season ready to let Tommy Manzella show what he could do on offense, knowing all the while he was a Major League-ready defensive shortstop. Manzella struggled with the bat for much of the year, and came out the gate a little shaky on defense. But he got better with the glove as the season went on and blossomed into the defensive player the club had seen throughout the Minor Leagues.

Jeff Keppinger made a few starts at shortstop, but would soon be entrenched at second after the Astros cut ties with Kaz Matsui. That opened the door for Geoff Blum to get in some time at second base, as well. Manzella hit .224 in April and .192 in May before breaking his left index finger diving for a ball in late June and missing more than six weeks of the regular season. With Oswaldo Navarro and Blum the only options at shortstop after Manzella went down, the Astros traded catcher Kevin Cash to Boston for shortstop Angel Sanchez.

Sanchez hit .280 in 250 at-bats and impressed with the Astros with to put the ball in play. He went 4-for-6 and drove in a career-high six runs on Aug. 3 at St. Louis, but had only four RBIs over the next 31 games. Sanchez had only 13 extra-base hits, including no home runs, and proved to be a below-average defender because of his arm and his limited range. That’s why the Astros tinkered with him at second base, but he was still a better offensive option than Manzella.

Manzella, who hit .290 against left-handers, did end the season on the upswing offensively after coming back from his broken finger. He hit .261 in 69 at-bats to finish the season. He and Sanchez were splitting time at shortstop when the season came to an end.

What’s next: Manzella and Sanchez will back next year battling for a spot at shortstop, but the Astros will make it a priority in the offseason to find more offensive punch at shortstop, whether through free agency or a trade. That shouldn’t come as a surprise when you consider the Astros managed only two home runs out of their shortstops last year. And when you consider the outfield is set and the club is committed to Jason Castro at catcher, Brett Wallace at first and Chris Johnson at third, adding offense at shortstop and/or second base makes the most sense.

Bringing in a new player could lead to a platoon situation at shortstop or even at second base, where Keppinger brings limited offensive tools. Depending on which player the Astros bring in, Manzella and Sanchez could be competing for a roster spot next spring.

Who’s on the farm: Jiovanni Mier, the Astros’ No. 1 Draft pick from 2009, is still considered the club’s shortstop of the future, but he’s a few years away. He’s off to a slow start, but he was drafted out of high school and is still making adjustments. He hit .235/.323/.314 in 131 games last season with two homers, 53 RBIs and 15 stolen bases at low Class A Lexington. The Astros are also excited about adding Jimmy Paredes and Jonathan Villar in the two deals they made at the trading deadline. They both are athletic, strong kids who bring speed.

 

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