The Runner Sports

March Magnets! Strong Astros Roster Repels 5 Iron-Clad Springs

Houston Astros Tony Kemp, Tyler White, and Teoscar Hernandez could start for any of the bottom third of MLB teams. A.J. Reed and Colin Moran could likely be thrown onto the roster of a team in the bottom quarter, and that team would be happy to wait, if needed, til they worked things out.

None of those five, however, will break Houston’s spring camp with a spot on the 25-man Opening Day roster. One? Maybe. A very thin maybe.

All five made their respective Major League debuts in 2016, and all have “done their time” at Triple-A Fresno. All five have career arcs that all but dictate that this should be their year for breaking in, and breaking through.

But, like thoroughbreds behind locked starting gates, the frustrated Fresno five are blocked by the fact that Houston had a busy offseason, bulking up their starting lineup. Most baseball pundits label the Astros as having the most feared lineup in, if not all 30 teams, then certainly in the American League.

In fact, Mike Petriello of MLB.com, in his January 27, 2017, article, proclaimed, “Houston might not have a single true weakness in the lineup.”

“Our position-player group is tough to crack,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said flatly, from camp recently. “We’re going to most likely carry 13 pitchers, and if we do that, it makes the last bench spot very difficult to make.

“The 13th pitcher versus extra position player will be debated over the next few weeks with White, Kemp, Reed, Teoscar Hernandez, Moran — guys that all have more service time and have put themselves in good positions.”

Positive “Eye Ons”

Tony Kemp came up as a second baseman, but was moved to the outfield, in AAA, last season, as reigning AL batting champ Jose Altuve is immovable at 2B in Houston. Kemp is hitting .286, this spring, in 35 ABs through games of March 17.

He’s a top of the lineup, left-handed slap hitter, with the speed and quickness to have hit 4 doubles and 3 triples, last year, for Houston in 120 at-bats. His 5’6″ and 165 pounds makes him just a literal hair larger than Altuve. In 69 games for Fresno, last season, he hit .306, with 9 doubles, 4 triples, and a walk total that equaled his strikeout sum (34) helping to contribute to his .389 on-base-percentage.

Related: Tony Kemp: Astros’ Young Gun With Big Pop

Tyler White, who has played both 3B and 1B in his pro career, has even seen time at 2B, this spring, to increase his defensive flexibility (and to help spell Altuve, who has spent March participating in the World Baseball Classic). With Alex Bregman solidified at 3B, and Yulieski Gurriel at 1B for the Astros, White’s way is blocked.

White, a righty, ended his spring with a .231/.286/.308 output in 39 at-bats with one homer. He’s 5’11”, and a few winter-lost pounds south of 225. White withstood the rush of three competitors for the 1B spot out of ’16’s Spring Training, and broke out of the gate as the AL’s Player of the Week, last April 10. Losing his stroke, he finished his Houston tenure with a .217 BA in 249 ABs, and finished ’16 in Fresno, and turned in a .241, with 13 homers in 174 ABs.

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

Teoscar Hernandez is a true X-factor prospect. He could emerge as an incredible, flashy outfielder, or he could settle into journeyman status. Time, office gossip that it is, will tell.

He takes odd angles after fly balls (but manages to catch them), and is the only one of the five to be “earning” the direct course back to Fresno out of camp, scratching a BA of .222 in 36 ABs, to complete his camp stay with the big league team. Spring is historically brutal to Teo, but he did hit a promising .230 in 100 ABs for Houston in ’16, with 7 doubles and 4 homers. His two-team minor league BA, last year, was .307 in 423 ABs, 28 doubles, 3 triples, and 10 dingers.

Related: ‘Stro Wars: A New Hope: Teoscar Avoids Oblivion

A.J. Reed would be winning the 1B role out of camp if this weren’t the 2017 Astros. He’s got teams named the Chicago White Sox with tradeable pitchers named Jose Quintana drooling. Reed, the lefty, 6’4″ 250+lb Kentucky behemoth, ended his spring training with a .306/.444/.667 line in 36 at-bats.  If Yuli slumps or pulls a lat, Reed looks ready.

Related: Attack of the Baby Astros: A.J. Reed, and the Bat Reborn

Colin Moran is, like Reed, using this spring to redefine his worth and projection to the team. Moran ended his spring with a .389 batting average, with a 1.050 OPS, in 36 at-bats.

A third baseman by trade, he too, has taken spring game reps at shortstop (with that position blocked by Carlos Correa), and at 1B, but finds only a logjam at both corners.

Related: Attack of the Baby Astros: Colin Moran Sees the Day

Final Filings

Astro brass, as the season gets underway, could use this glut of young talent to pull off the much-ballyhooed winter deal for a front line pitcher that never did materialize.

To “hoard” these gifted players on the off-chance one of their available positions opens due to injury or even non-performance at the big league level wouldn’t be fair to those five, most of whom deserve, now, their chance in The Show.

I’m positive.

Spring Update, March 21: As expected, Reed, White, Moran, and Hernandez were optioned to Houston’s minor league camp. Each is slated to be starters and get regular at-bats with AAA Fresno, and due to their fine respective spring showings, will be called up, at some point, to help the Astros in ’17.

“I think three years ago, there’s a good chance all four of those guys would’ve made our opening day 25,” GM Jeff Luhnow said, in response to the players’ options. “They’ve all had good springs in different ways, and I believe all four of those guys are going to contribute to our big league team this year.”

Brad Kyle

Brad Kyle

Here I am, meeting with Nolan Ryan at Dell Diamond in Round Rock, TX. One of us is trying to convince the other to take his 90 mph fastball, and get back into the game.

Needless to say, I've decided to spend my golden years, instead, crooning Sinatra at nursing homes, while reflecting on a life well-lived in the classroom, spinning rock'n'roll in '70s radio stations, and peddling wax in the record biz.

I'm a Houston native, having attended 'Stro games in Colt Stadium, the beloved Astrodome, and Minute Maid.

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Brad Kyle