Astros position breakdown: third base
We close out the infield portion of out position-by-position analysis by sinking our teeth into third base, which is pretty set at this point in time:
2010 Opening Day starter: Pedro Feliz.
2010 end-of-season starter: Chris Johnson.
Others who were in the mix: Geoff Blum, Matt Downs.
Combined 2010 stats of Astros third basemen: .265 BA/.292 OBP/.392 SLG, 31 doubles, 14 homers, 80 RBIs, 25 walks, 126 strikeouts, 616 at-bats.
Free agents: Geoff Blum (option declined).
Arbitration eligible: None.
What happened: The Astros signed Pedro Feliz to a one-year, $4.5-million contract at last year’s Winter Meetings with the hopes he could add some muscle to their offense and be a run-producer while playing a steady third base. Feliz did neither. He scuffled defensively and never got going with the bat, hitting .221 with four homers and 31 RBIs in 97 games before the Astros benched him in June and handed the starting job to rookie Chris Johnson.
Johnson, who made his Major League debut at the end of 2009 and played sparingly, had a tremendous spring and made the Opening Day roster, thanks in part to an injury Lance Berkman. That’s because Feliz saw time at first base against left-handers with Berkman out, allowing Johnson to make some starts at third. But Johnson’s season was quickly derailed when he went on the 15-day disabled list April 20 with a right intercostal strain.
When Johnson was healthy, Berkman was back in the lineup for the Astros and they had no room on the roster for him. He went to Triple-A Round Rock and hit .329/.362/.570 with eight homers and 33 RBIs before the Astros called him up.
Although he got a late start, Johnson went on to make a run at National League Rookie of the Year, hitting, .308/.337/.481 with 11 homers and 52 RBIS in 94 games. He led all Major League rookies with a .308 batting average (minimum 300 at-bats) and hit .316 after the All-Star break with 11 homers and 44 RBIs. He struggled at times defensively, committing 18 errors for a .908 fielding percentage, but the Astros are confident he will continue to improve with the glove.
What’s next: Johnson is the man of the moment. He’s penciled in as the starter next year with the expectation he’ll continue to improve as a run producer and a defensive player. The Astros will be in the market this winter for a utility player that can play third base when Johnson needs a day off, but if he’s healthy expect C.J. to make at least 150 starts for the Astros in 2011.
Who’s on the farm: The Astros’ top two third base prospects are in the lower Minor Leagues: Jonathan Meyer and Mike Kvasnicka. Meyer, a third-round pick in 2009, hit .245/.304/.317 with two homers and 49 RBIs last season in 121 games at Class A Lexington in his first full season in pro ball. Kvasnicka was taken with the 33rd overall pick this year and hit .234/.305/.337 with five homers and 36 RBIs in 68 games at short-season Tri-City. Kvasnicka, out of the University of Minnesota, has played third, the outfield and caught, but his future is at third base.