The Runner Sports

Astros’ 1B Sole Survivor: Tyler White Out-hits, Outplays, Outlasts

The Tribe has spoken. After several weeks of traversing the jungle of four-seam fastballs, darting sliders, and bad-hopping grounders, the Houston Astros finally have their first baseman.

The 5’11”, 225-pound, 25-year-old Tyler White has emerged from the Endurance Challenge as the winner of the Immunity Idol. He can now apply for a number lower than his “Spring Training Prospect” #84!

Not bad for a 33rd-round draft pick three years ago.

Through games of March 27, the right-handed White was hitting .366 with a .460 on-base percentage, 1.045 OPS, two homers, 10 RBIs and eight walks in 41 at-bats.

Manager A.J. Hinch had this to say about his newly anointed first-bagger: “He’s done nothing but perform throughout his Minor League career, and it’s a great story, and he’s earned it. So I let him know in front of the team that he’s going to be a big leaguer a week from now. I’m really proud [that] he won a job on the team.”

Four contestants began the battle in mid-February, at the start of Spring Training: Jon Singleton, Matt Duffy, White, and A.J. Reed. Add mitt-wearing Marwin Gonzalez and Preston Tucker to the legitimate mix, and valuable at-bats became more precious than delegates on caucus day.

Making the announcement Monday, March 28, Hinch wouldn’t say how much White will play, but the team has quite a few options at both 1B and DH, and both are slots White can see considerable time in.

Gonzalez and Tucker both saw some time at first base this spring, and depending on pitching match-ups, any one could end up as DH or at first on any given day. And, that’s all while waiting for DH Evan Gattis to return in April, after undergoing hernia surgery in February.

The Singleton Verdict

Singleton and pitcher Michael Feliz (the organization’s #10-ranked prospect, according to MLBPipeline.com) were optioned, as they were both on the 40-man roster. Both will also report to the Astros’ Triple-A Fresno affiliate, whose season begins April 7 in Las Vegas.

Singleton hit .151 with three homers and seven RBIs this spring, and the team may be forced to make a decision soon. While the Astros brass will want Reed to get the optimum time possible in the field, Singleton may see most of his time as DH at Fresno, inasmuch as pitch selection and contact are his biggest need areas (as opposed to fielding).

Speaking of Singleton Monday, Hinch had this to say: “You know he had a roller-coaster spring, and things were starting to trend in the right way for him. He’s playing better, getting a little bit more consistent at-bats. His contact rate was going up.”

“I told him, I said, ‘It’s very difficult when an opportunity’s right there in front of you and we’re going to choose to go with somebody different.’ But he’ll continue to fight and grind and claw and get better to hopefully be called up if and when we ever need it.”

The big left-hander’s spring output, too, has been spectacularly unproductive: In 53 at-bats (through games of March 27), he’s hit .151 while striking out 17 times, and walking only 3 times. His 8 hits have yielded 2 doubles and 3 home runs.

With a strikeout frequency of about 1/3 of his at-bats, and OBP of .196, haunting memories of the similarly weak-producing first baseman (and released in the offseason) Chris Carter were Singleton’s downfall.

The Perfect Summer Reed

Reed, ranked as the #1 first base prospect by MLB.com, will likely also report to Fresno, as he’s got nothing left to prove at Double-A. Reed impressed this spring, batting .311 with three homers and nine RBIs.

In 2015, Reed led the Minors in runs (113), homers (34), RBIs (127), total bases (320), slugging (.612) and OPS (1.044) while winning the Class A-Advanced California League MVP Award and didn’t let up after a promotion to AA Corpus Christi.

The left-hand hitting Reed made believers of Spring Training fans, too, with these numbers (through games of March 27): In 45 at-bats, he smacked 14 hits (.311 BA), including 3 home runs, 9 RBI, and a .933 OPS.

Related: Reed as 2016 AL ROY?

An early summer call-up seems possible, if not likely, for Reed, and a mouth-watering vision of a 1B platoon with Reed and White is tempting to contemplate. But, White will have to continue his spring production, while Reed will have to force management’s hand by punishing Pacific Coast League pitchers and outfield walls. Plus, there’s the challenge of keeping both playing frequently enough to avoid stagnation in their progress and production.

What of Duffy?

The right-hand hitting Duffy will likely break camp with a spot on the team. He’s on the 25-man roster, and he could provide bench depth, play third, and factor into a DH rotation, certainly until Gattis returns. Duffy had only 8 hits in 44 spring at-bats for a .182 average, but was the only one besides Singleton who had previous major league experience, albeit just 8 at-bats in 2015.

Welcome to The Show, Tyler! In Houston, White is the new Orange (and Blue)!

Also on Monday:

The Astros sent out-of-options pitcher Dan Straily to the San Diego Padres in exchange for back-up catcher Erik Kratz. With Max Stassi laid up for a few more weeks healing from wrist surgery, the need for a backstop back-up for Jason Castro was deemed necessary. Astros minor league catcher Roberto Pena, though, will make the trip to Houston for the March 31 and April 1 exhibition games against the Brewers.

Singleton, who was the front-runner for the first-base job entering camp, and Reed were among eight players cut from big league camp on Monday, joining infielder Joe Sclafani, catcher Tyler Heineman, outfielder Eury Perez, and pitchers Jake Buchanan, Feliz and Cesar Valdez. The latter six were reassigned to Minor League camp.

NEW: March Magnets! Strong 2017 Astros Roster Repels White’s Iron-Clad Spring

Brad Kyle

Brad Kyle

Seen here, meeting Nolan Ryan at Dell Diamond in Round Rock (TX), around the turn of the century.

Brad was born and raised in the shadow of what eventually became Colt Stadium, and then, in '65, the Astrodome.

Brad's a semi-retired entertainer, having been lead singer (and flautist) of high school rock cover band Brimstone (Houston, early '70s).

He currently sings karaoke nightly, and also performs at nursing homes and private parties.

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Brad Kyle