In last week's column I suggested Humberto Quintero might be the odd man out, with the return from injury of Jason Castro and the signing of Chris Snyder. Picking up Landon Powell as organisational depth at catcher seems to confirm the Astros front office thinking on the subject.
Competition for places is great. You like to see it during spring. With the exception of Carlos Lee at first base, Jed Lowrie at shortstop and J.D. Martinez in left field, the other opening day starters spots are up for grabs. Jose Altuve may take second base, and Jordan Schafer could be the center fielder, but these are toss ups.
But I have seen so many Spring Training rotation spot battles over the past decade or so that I become rather numb to it all. At the moment I'm assuming Bud Norris, Wandy Rodriguez and Livan Hernandez will take three spots, with J.A. Happ taking a fourth. That leaves Henry Sosa, Lucas Harrell, Kyle Weiland, Jordan Lyles and Zach Duke battling for one spot. Aneury Rodriguez is there too.
And that doesn't even take into account the depth the Astros are stacking up in the minors. Paul Clemens dazzled very briefly, and was already at the head of a prospect queue for a callup later on in the season. Jarred Cosart is there in the background, as is Brett Oberholtzer.
How do you get the most out of this sort of depth? Because some of it is throwing spaghetti against a wall and hoping some sticks in the first list, apart from Lyles. There just isn't much ceiling there to be excited about. Harrell and Sosa are out of options and could be claimed by other teams if sent down. Should that colour the Astros judgement? Are we kidding ourselves to believe that Happ could ever put up the numbers he did with the Phillies and Astros in 2009 and 2010?
Jordan Schafer has put on 30 pounds and is hitting the shine off the ball in his first eight games, but so has Carlos Lee, who is listed at a rather large 274 via Astros County and Phil Rogers. This is not the sort of thing you want to see for a man who is entering the final year of an $18.5m contract. Does Lee ride off into the sunset after 2012, or play on with another team?
Schafer's immaturity bothers me, as does the offseason shenanigans, but so far he's having an eye-opening spring. We are always dealing with small sample sizes, but he has speed to burn, shows patience at the plate, and has a .391 batting average so far. With little power, it is his defense, on-base skills and base-stealing ability which will establish his value going forward.
Meanwhile Marc Hulet lists Mike Kvasnicka and Ross Seaton as buy-low prospect candidates coming into the 2012 season. The latter has been an utterly frustrating prospect since being drafted, but the switch back to catcher creates intriguing possibilities for the 23-year-old. His offensive numbers were poor, and the lack of any real power diminished his value at third base, his defensive ability destroying it.
As Hulet states:
He may return to low-A ball in 2012 to get re-acclimated with catching without putting too much pressure on his offensive game. He tired in the second half of 2011 so he'll have to get stronger to withstand a full year of squatting behind the plate. A switch-hitting catcher carries a ton of potential value.
If Kvasnicka makes the majors he will exceed my current or previous expectations.