Bourgeois or Shuck will grab final outfield spot

Unless the Astros acquire another outfielder in the next week, Jason Bourgeois or J.B. Shuck will begin the season as the fifth outfielder. Bourgeois served in that role for a time last year, and even started 11 games in center field at the end of the season when Michael Bourn went on the disabled list.

The two have emerged as the only candidates to win the final outfield spot after Brian Bogusevic was optioned to Minor League camp on Thursday. Bourgeois has certainly had a strong camp, entering Thursday hitting .314 with four stolen bases. The fact Bogusevic swings the bat from the left side was a bonus for him, but Bourgeois’ good spring couldn’t be ignored.

Shuck is somewhat of a surprise to still be at camp. A non-roster invitee, he’s a career .303 average in the Minor Leagues, but he’s only played 36 games above Double-A. He bats left-handed and can play all three outfield positions.

Astros general manager Ed Wade said the role of a bench player, such as what Bogusevic was going to be asked to play, is difficult for a young player.

“The bat-off-the-bench role is tough for a young guy to roll himself into,” Wade said. “They’re used to get 375, 400 at-bats at the Minor League level and maybe get called up and still be sharp and game ready. It becomes much more difficult when you get four or five at-bats a week at the big league level and understand what the level of preparation is associated with that.

“We’re fortunate here that we have a guy like Jason Michaels who’s done it and can help mentor younger players, if we have a young guy filling that role. We recognize it’s a tough one to fill, and we felt the right thing for us right now was to let Bogie go play and figure that one out down the road.”

When asked about Shuck in that role, Wade said: “It’s held against the same backdrop. That’s a tough job. J.B. makes a really good contact, he can bunt, he’s an above-average runner and can play all three defensive positions. He’s still in the mix.”

The decision to send Manzella to the Minors was somewhat surprising, considering he was hitting .278 this spring and is a polished defensive player. What probably worked against Manzella — last year’s Opening Day shortstop — was his lack of experience at third base and second base. 

His departure leaves four infielders — Matt Downs, Anderson Hernandez, Angel Sanchez and Oswaldo Navarro — battling for two spots. Downs might have the upper hand because he can play anywhere and has swung the bat well, but Hernandez can also be moved all over the diamond and is a switch-hitter. Sanchez is out of options and performed well last year with the Astros.

“We’ve got things to figure out,” Wade said. “One would say your big decisions are made. You’ve decided who your fifth starter is, you’ve decided who your closer it, you’ve decided this, that and the other thing. The fact of the matter is we recognize the importance of the composition of the bench and what opportunities it provides for [manager Brad Mills].

“In call candor, we’re going to be guided by what Millsie feels is appropriate with the composition of the bench because he’s the one that will look down there and make sure that,, as best we can, we’ve provided him the pieces to make effective moves late in the game.”

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