On-Base Perception

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Get to know the Houston Astros starting lineup

Jose Altuve is one of the few bright

Jose Altuve is one of the few bright spots on the 2013 Houston Astros. (Credit: AP)

The Astros starting lineup for their first game in the American League is out:

1. Jose Altuve, 2B
2. Brett Wallace, 1B
3. Chris Carter, LF
4. Carlos Pena, DH
5. Justin Maxwell, CF
6. Jason Castro, C
7. Matt Dominguez, 3B
8. Brandon Barnes, RF
9. Ronny Cedeno, SS

Altuve will turn 23 in May, and he’s the youngest member of the club. Dominguez is also 23, but the rest of the normal starting lineup is 26 or older. This is not a group of prospects with room to grow (like the Marlins to some extent). This a group of place holders and warm bodies who can be traded when the time comes – and it will come.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t ANY talent on this club. And there are certainly some fun players to watch. Here’s a rundown of the American League Houston Astros:

1 – Jose Altuve, 2B – Hard not to like the little guy. He hustles and seems to enjoy playing the game. But he’s probably better suited towards the bottom of the order. He hits for contact and steals bases (33 last year). But doesn’t get on base at a high enough clip to be hitting leadoff, and has FAR too little power (.388 slugging percentage) to be anywhere else but the No. 2 or No. 9 slot. But, then again, it’s not as if the Astros have some other great option. If this were a good team, though, he wouldn’t be leading off.

2 – Brett Wallace, 1B – Wallace was a highly regarded 3B prospect when the Cardinals traded him to the A’s for Matt Holliday. Then he became engaged in prospect leapfrog, going to Toronto and then Houston for a pair of highly regarded outfield prospects. Along the way he was moved to first base. But all that minor league hitting hasn’t translated to the majors, and he hasn’t posted a positive WAR during a major league season. Perhaps hitting between the heavy-contact Altuve and power-hitting Carter will jump-start him. But time is running out.

3 – Chris Carter, LF – Carter played 156 dreadful innings in left field in 2012 (-41.4 UZR.150), but it was a small sample size – and Minute Maid’s left field shouldn’t be incredibly challenging. But Carter isn’t on the roster to catch fly balls – he’s in Houston because of his power. Carter slammed 16 home runs in just 260 at-bats for the A’s last season, posting a .350 on-base percentage. He’s probably better suited at first base or designated hitter, but the talent-poor Astros have to do the best they can to hide him in left.

4 – Carlos Pena, DH – Pena has never hit less than 18 home runs during any season in which he’s been given 295 plate appearances. He hit at least 28 home runs every season from 2007-2011, but fell off with 19 long balls during a reunion with the Rays in 2012. Pena also has a career .350 OBP. But if you’re looking for contact, you may want to turn your head (.234 lifetime batting average). As a veteran on a one-year deal with power and a history of postseason play, count on Pena to be one of the first guys to get traded if he’s having anything resembling a positive season and the Astros can get anyone with upside in return.

By the way - there are three, count 'em three former A's first basemen in the Astros' Opening Night lineup: Pena, Carter and Wallace (minors).

5 - Justin Maxwell, CF – Yankees fans sure appreciated Raul Ibanez’s contributions last seasons in the Bronx, when he hit 19 home runs to go along with a .761 OPS. Of course, the Yankees had Maxwell in their system and let him go. For Houston he had a .764 OPS with 18 home runs. And unlike Ibanez, Maxwell wasn’t a total waste in the outfield. He spent most of his time in center field for the Astros in 2012, where he posted a 30.8 UZR/150. UZR.150 is an advanced metric that measures a player’s ability to get to balls hit in their zone. For his career, he has a 12.9 UZR/150 in all outfield spots combined.

6 – Jason Castro, C – Castro’s MLB batting average jumped 52 points in 2012 (.257), and that surge was the driving force behind his better OBP (.334). He has a good walk rate (10.5 percent), and if he can maintain a decent average, his developing power (six homers in 295 at-bats) could make him a solid option at backstop for the Astros, who’ve struggled at the position in particular during recent seasons. He had a torrid spring.

7 – Matt Dominguez, 3B – The Astros got Dominguez from the Marlins when they traded Carlos Lee. He had a questionable bat even in the minors, but performed well during a brief 113 plate appearance audition with the Astros last year (.284 average, five home runs).

8 – Brandon Barnes, RF – In an extremely small sample size, he hits lefties (.234) somewhat better than righties (.176). He’s in the opening day lineup because Texas lefty Matt Harrison is on the mound. Once a right-hander comes in, Rick Ankiel will likely take over.

9 – Ronny Cedeno, SS – Cedeno, a Met last season, has a solid glove at second (4.7 UZR//150), third (-3.0 UZR/150) and short (-2.1 UZR/150). He makes below average contact (.247 career average, .259 in 2012), doesn’t get on base much (.290 career OBP) and doesn’t have power (.357 career slugging percentage). Basically, he’s on the roster because he’s a steady, versatile, veteran glove on a club lacking those qualities.

Tags: Houston Astros , Jose Altuve , Chris Carter , Carlos Pena , Brett Wallace , Justin Maxwell , Jason Castro , Matt Dominguez , Texas Rangers , Brandon Barnes , Rick Ankiel , Ronny Cedeno

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