Spring Break

added 3/17/2011 by Bob Hulsey

With all the split squads and nice weather, it's been quite awhile since Brad Mills has been able to catch his breath and reflect on how the spring has gone. Finally, on St. Patrick's Day, the Astros had a day off which gives me an opportunity to go over spring statistics and narrow down who still has a chance to make the 25-man roster.

For batters, it's safe to say that the following have made the team: Humberto Quintero, Brett Wallace, Bill Hall, Clint Barmes, Chris Johnson, Carlos Lee, Michael Bourn, Hunter Pence and Jason Michaels. That's nine out of a likely 13.

With Jason Castro out most if not all of the season with a knee injury, competition for the backup catcher's spot has heated up. J.R. Towles (.375/.423/.708 in 24 at bats through Thursday) seems to have a slight edge over journeyman Carlos Corporan (.467/.500/.533 in 15 ABs).

The fifth outfielder spot seems largely a duel between Brian Bogusevic (.243/.243/.378 in 37 ABs) and Jason Bourgeois (.342/.342/.447 in 38 ABs) with J.B. Shuck (.276/.300/.310 in 29 ABs) and Drew Locke (.358/.500/.565 in 23 ABs) keeping up the pressure. Bogusevic has an advantage since he bats left. Bourgeois has taken advantage of some missed starts by Bourn to showcase his speed and defense.

There will probably be two backup infielders kept with Jeff Keppinger filling one of them after he heals from foot surgery later this spring. Four likely candidates are Tommy Manzella (.321/.387/.393 in 28 ABs), Angel Sanchez (.250/.323/.286 in 28 ABs), Anderson Hernandez (.292/.320/.333 in 24 ABs) and Matt Downs (.267/.378/.633).

Each comes with certain assets. Manzella is the best pure shortstop, Downs has played some first and third while showing the best power, Anderson is a switch-hitter and Sanchez is the best bunter. Anderson's chances improve if Bogusevic doesn't win the outfield job as Mills will want somebody who can hit lefty from the bench.

All of those assured of a spot are hitting reasonably well with the exception of Barmes (.225/.311/.350 in 40 at bats), who is often a streaky hitter.

Keep in mind that all spring stats involve small sample sizes and the quality of pitchers faced varies wildly. The deeper into the game, the worse the pitching typically gets but established starters may also choose to work on pitches rather than try to get hitters out.

Spring pitching stats, at this stage, are much harder to quantify since only two hurlers have pitched ten or more innings. Four starting pitchers are expected to have jobs: Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez, J.A. Happ and Bud Norris. Brandon Lyon, Wilton Lopez and Fernando Abad are projected to win jobs in the bullpen.

That leaves a fifth starter and four arms for the bullpen. The duel for the last rotation spot appears to be between lefthander Ryan Rowland-Smith (8 hits, 6 walks, 4 strikeouts, 6.00 ERA in 9 innings through Thursday), Nelson Figueroa (11/4/4/5.00/9), Aneury Rodriguez (12/4/3/4.00/9) and Jordan Lyles (9/2/5/1.80/10).

While Lyles has made statistically the best case, the 20-year-old is likely bound for AAA Oklahoma City simply because he can easily be optioned for later call-up. Rodriguez is a Rule V claim who has to be offered back to Tampa Bay if he isn't kept on the 25-man roster all year. Rowland-Smith and Figueroa have full contracts and would have to go through waivers if they don't make the team.

For those reasons, expect Rodriguez, Figueroa and Rowland-Smith to be sent to the bullpen if they don't win the starter's job. That leaves two places left for short relievers.

Among those candidates are righthanders Mark Melancon (7/2/4/1.80/5), Jeff Fulchino (7/0/4/3.50/5), Enerio Del Rosario (5/1/7/0.00/8.1), Fernando Rodriguez (3/4/3/3.00/6) and Casey Fien (6/1/3/1.80/5). Lefthander Gustavo Chacin (6/0/4/2.84/6.1) is also on the bubble.

There's still two more weeks for numbers and opinions to change. Ultimately, the statistics won't matter once the regular season begins and those who don't make the squad will still have the hope of being called up at some time during the summer. Mills and the coaches will have some tough choices to make before April 1st when the battle begins in Philadelphia.

(all statistics through 3/16/2011 as presented on MLB.com)