Results tagged ‘ Angel Sanchez ’

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.

 

Astros position breakdown: second base

Before we get to the latest in our Astros position-by-position breakdown, here’s a reminder that I’m currently fielding Astros-related questions and plan to answer them in the coming days via an Inbox. You can fire off you questions by clicking here.

Back to the task at hand. Our position-by-position breakdown takes us to second base, which for years was occupied by franchise icon Craig Biggio.

For the time being, second base is a position the Astros aren’t too worried about. Jeff Keppinger seized the starting job from Kaz Matsui early last season and was one of the team’s most consistent players all year. He comes with a relatively low salary and is a downright bargain based on his production, so things appear pretty set at the position after a tumultuous regular season.

Here’s a look at what’s going on at second base:

SECOND BASE

2010 Opening Day starter: Kaz Matsui.

2010 end-of-season starters: Jeff Keppinger.

Others who were in the mix: Geoff Blum, Anderson Hernandez, Angel Sanchez, Matt Downs, Jason Bourgeois.

Combined 2010 stats of Astros second basemen: .252 BA/.313 OBP/.345 SLG, 35 doubles, 7 homers, 59 RBIs, 56 walks, 57 strikeouts, 624 at-bats.

Free agents: Geoff Blum (option declined), Anderson Hernandez (Minor League).

Arbitration eligible: Jeff Keppinger.

What happened: Kaz Matsui, entering the final year of his three-year, $16.5-million deal, began the season as the incumbent starter at second, though he was actually platooning with Keppinger if you consider the number of starts each got in April (Keppinger had 12, Matsui 10). Matsui got off to an awful start and hit .141 in 27 games before the Astros cut him loose and handed the everyday job to Keppinger in mid-May.

Jeff Keppinger, 30, certainly didn’t disappoint and hit .288 with six homers and 59 RBIs in a career-high 514 at-bats. He was the team’s most consistent hitter all season and led the Astros in doubles with 34. He also struck out only 36 times in 514 at-bats while drawing 51 walks. Keppinger’s doesn’t have great range, but he made all the routine plays and was a steady hand at second base. He made only six errors, and his .990 field percentage was fourth in the NL among second baseman.

Keppinger missed 15 games in August after going on the disabled list with left big toe sesamoiditis, which was basically a stress fracture near the ball of his left foot. It forced him to take a few days off later in September, which allowed Anderson Hernandez and Matt Downs to make occasional starts. Veteran Geoff Blum also saw time at second, and shortstop Angel Sanchez was put at second on occasion when Tommy Manzella started at short late in the year. Outfielder Jason Bourgeois made a brief appearance at second base as well.

What’s next: Barring a trade or free agent signing, Keppinger will begin next season as the starting second baseman. The club admittedly needs to upgrade its offense and won’t shy away from a chance to add some pop at second base or shortstop, even if it forces a platoon situation somewhere in the middle infield. Sanchez will again be in the mix at second base, where he’s better suited than at shortstop because of his limited arm and range.

Who’s on the farm: The Astros used their No. 1 overall pick last year on Delino DeShields Jr., an outfielder who will be converted to second base from the outfield. He went to the instructional league to make the transition, but was slowed by elbow problems and was limited to designated hitter duties, though he did field ground balls at second and will continue to work at the position in the winter and heading into Spring Training next year. Jose Vallejo, acquired as part of last year’s Ivan Rodriguez trade with Texas, hit .111 in 99 at-bats in Corpus Christi. That was encouraging considering he severed tendons in two fingers of his right hand in a cooking accident late last year and had extensive surgery. The injury was believed to be career-threatening. He was a six-year Minor League free agent, but has re-signed with the Astros.

Jose Altuve was a South Atlantic League All-Star with Lexington before being promoted to high Class A Lancaster. He hit a combined .301/.357/.448 with 15 homers and 67 RBIs in 125 games. He stands 5-foot-5, but knows how to play the game, has outstanding hands, good speed and surprising pop. He’s liked by every guy on the Minor League staff. Jimmy Paredes, acquired in the Lance Berkman deal with the Yankees, hit .299 with three homers and 17 RBIs in 34 games with Lexington. For the season, he hit .287 with eight homers and 65 RBIs combined between Lexington and Charleston (Yankees). Other second basemen to keep an eye on are Enrique Hernandez (Tri-City) and Ben Orloff (Tri-City). The Astros also re-signed Wladimir Sutil, who can play shortstop.

In summary: The Astros like what they have in Keppinger, and he should provide a solid option until one of the Astros’ youngsters in the Minor Leagues shows he’s ready to take over. Who knows how long that will take, but the Astros are slowly building some quality depth at the position in the Minor Leagues.

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