Ah, yes, now the heavy lifting begins. For fans. For media. For new manager Bo Porter. There are easy choices at first, second and shortstop. No one will likely argue with an opening day lineup that includes either Brett Wallace or Nate Freiman at first, Jose Altuve at second and Jed Lowrie at shortstop. Third base – and many other positions as you will see in other previews — is a different story. None of the serious or obvious known third base candidates has considerable major league playing time at the position. In fact, the three primary contenders for time at the hot corner this year have started – combined – only 54 games in the majors at that position. You want wide open? You want competition? You may get wide open, but unless Jeff Luhnow sprinkles in other names and bodies, the competition may be over virtually before it starts. Here's the short list of names expected to open spring training on the third base depth chart. PROBABLES. Matt Dominguez, Bats R, Throws R, 23 years old. Acquired in trade for Carlos Lee from Miami Marlins. 2012 stats: (Astros) 109 AB, 5 HR, 18 RBI, .284 avg./.310 OBP/.477 SLG., 17K (16%), 4BB (13%), .257 BaBIP. (Minors) 447 AB, 9HR, 69 RBI, .257 avg./311OBP/.371SLG, 52K (12%), 34BB (8%) Brett Wallace, Bats L, Throws R, 26 years old. Acquired in trade for Anthony Gose (via the Oswalt trade) 2010. 2012 stats: (Astros) 229 AB, 9 HR, 24 RBI, .253 avg./.323 OBP/.424 SLG., 73K (32%), 18BB (8%), .331 BaBIP. Brandon Laird, Bats R, Throws R, 25 years old. Selected off waivers from the New York Yankees. 2012 stats: (Astros) 35 AB, 1 HR, 4 RBI, .257/.297/.371, 8K (23%), 2BB (6%). .308 BaBIP. Minors 503 AB, 15 HR, 77RBI, .254/.307/.414, 103K (20%), 34BB (7%). Unlike shortstop, there isn't a trove of treasure at third base in the system waiting for future years. Simply put, barring a trade, waiver wire acquisition, an unexpected shift of a player from another position or picking up a player cut near the end of spring training, these are the players who will get the bulk of playing time, at least out of the starting gate. These slim pickings at the major league level mirror the depth in the organization. With the growing list of players at short — or even at catcher — it's not inconceivable the Astros would eventually shift a player or two to third base as prospects settle in. In 2013, though, the good money — and hope — is riding on Dominguez. He not only provides solid, if not stellar, defense, he's young and fits nicely into the timeline for rebuilding – if he can hit. At .256/.323/.409 in 593 career minor league games, he hasn't exactly demonstrated a propensity for a production level generally expected from third base. That defense along with his youthfulness, however, will buy him some time to improve his skills at the plate. In that respect, he could somewhat fly under the radar as a sleeper, emerging as a steady hand in the lineup.
2013 Astros: 3B wide open, but competition limited to a handful of players
Houston Chronicle | Jan 28