The Outfield Jumble

added 1/23/2012 by Bob Hulsey

Assuming Carlos Lee continues his transition to first base, there's nobody in the Astros outfield that can feel very comfortable about their prospects of leaving Kissimmee on the parent club. With a new regime in the front office that may have different priorities than Ed Wade had, and with a need to balance competitiveness with developing youth, every outfield candidate has more than a chance but less than a guarantee to be in Minute Maid Park on Opening Day. It's unlikely that more than five will survive and Brad Mills might be tempted to keep only four while giving occasional time to Lee or perhaps Matt Downs as a potential fifth outfielder.

With all this in mind, here are the outfield candidates ranked from most likely to least likely to be on the Astros roster:

Jordan Schafer: The lefty hitter showed some patience at the plate which could be valued more by GM Jeff Luhnow's metrics. He also has the speed to steal bases, cover center field and be the leadoff man in the lineup. However, his arrest on drug possession charges last October could make him a player the Astros may feel can't be trusted to stay clean. In addition, Luhnow has no reason to keep him around solely to justify Wade's trade of Michael Bourn. Since Schafer and Jason Bourgeois are the only ones with real center field skills, he's the most likely keeper in the group.

Jack Cust: Unlike most of the others, Cust is a Luhnow signing but he's on a non-guaranteed contract for the minimum veteran salary. A lefty hitter with power, he is also a liability in the field who was kicked from Seattle to Philadelphia in a very non-productive 2011 season. He'll probably be given a chance to stick unless he looks washed up during spring training. But the more time he spends in left field, the more Astros fans will wonder if they're watching the only guy in the majors who might look worse out there than Carlos Lee.

Brian Bogusevic: It has to make the former first-rounder squirm to know the Astros have made two moves recently that might boot him off the roster. With the additions of Cust and Mets prospect Fernando Martinez, both lefty hitters with more power than he has, "Bogey" may find his spring time reduced even after a very successful winter ball campaign. Realistically, I think this year is the only chance he will get to prove he can be a starter in the majors. With his prospect years winding down, his future may be as a backup and bench player. Still, he can play both center field and first base with credibility - an asset that might keep him on the roster.

Jason Bourgeois: He's no doubt the fastest Astro now that Bourn is gone and he'll find a place in the majors even if it is not in Houston. It's too bad that injuries seemed to pop up every time he seemed close to getting a starting gig last season. A righty hitter, Bourgeois is too old to get sent down and too talented to clear waivers unclaimed but, like Bogusevic, he may get lost in the numbers game when roster cuts conclude. Jason's chances of staying improve if Mills keeps five outfielders.

J.D. Martinez: If he makes the team, he should be the regular left fielder but it seems equally possible that he'll start the season in Oklahoma City, which he skipped on his way to Houston last summer. Righthanded Martinez had a hot August but cooled off in September. Does that mean the National League caught up with him or was he just tiring at the end of a long season? He has all his options left which will work against him unless he repeats last year's torrid spring.

Fernando Martinez: The former top prospect of the Mets was claimed on waivers recently. He missed a lot of time with injuries and, like J.D. Martinez, has an arthritic knee. Unlike his namesake, Fernando has a plus outfield arm so he might settle into right field rather than Bogusevic. I don't think he'll make the Opening Day roster without winning a starting job because he is young and the Astros will want him to play everyday whether it is in Houston or Oklahoma City.

J.B. Shuck: I don't think the new regime sees him as starting material so he will probably only win a job as a fifth outfielder. Shuck can play all three spots and did just enough offensively during his late-season call-up to deserve consideration but he's most probably a RedHawk. It hurts his chances that so many lefthanded hitters have been added to the competition.

Travis Buck: One of three outfield non-roster invitees (along with Brad Snyder and Brandon Barnes), he was the Jack Cust-like power candidate before Luhnow signed the real Jack Cust. Now, Buck won't make the team unless he has a spring where they literally can't cut him. Buck won't be given the same benefit of the doubt that the real Jack Cust may get.

George Springer: A real long shot, last June's first-round choice our of the University of Connecticut might flash skills that say he's ready for the majors without any minor league development. Expected to be one of the future stars of the franchise, it would be a huge PR boost to a team with few compelling reasons to watch if Springer could burst onto the scene like Hunter Pence did in 2007. If Schafer falters, it's not such a crazy idea.