Should Jon Singleton start the season at AAA?

added 3/7/2015 by Greg Thurston

One solution to the Astros roster crunch this spring could be to send Jon Singleton to AAA Fresno to start the season. Considered by many as the front-runner for the Astros first base job, Singleton's performance in his rookie season left much to be desired. Although his $2 million salary for the 2015 season might seem to warrant keeping him in the big leagues, his .168/.285/.335 slash line and 134 strikeouts in 362 plate appearances last season suggest otherwise.

Last season the Astros were still looking toward the future – and Singleton was given a chance to show what he could do at the big league level. This year, however, things are a little different. The club has begun to invest in the free agent market and a winning season appears to be the goal. If the Astros are truly focused on winning, a roster that does not include Singleton would be better equipped to do so.

Based strictly on past performance, I see no reason to include Singleton among the 13 position players that will break camp and head to Houston for the April 6 opener against the Cleveland Indians. Even a productive spring from Singleton shouldn't outweigh his 5-for-61 finish to the 2014 season. In my opinion, a lineup that includes Chris Carter at first base and Evan Gattis at DH makes more sense.

The argument has been made that the Astros need Singleton's left-handed bat in the lineup to break up the right-handed hitters. I don't see it that way. With Jason Castro, Colby Rasmus, and Luis Valbuena, one-third of the starting lineup hits from the left side of the plate. Add in the fact that Jed Lowrie is a switch-hitter and we are up to 44% lefties against right-handed pitchers. Bench players Hank Conger, Marwin Gonzalez, and Robbie Grossman are all switch-hitters. And, if Singleton is left off the roster, Alex Presley, his likely replacement, is also a left-handed hitter.

According to an article by ESPN's Buster Olney, the Astros have the toughest schedule in the majors over the first 48 games – playing 39 of those games against teams that finished above .500 last season. With that in mind, getting the best group of players on the field to start the season seems paramount. But, right now, Singleton simply isn't one of the team's top players. Don't get me wrong. A countless number of athletes have overcome poor rookie seasons and gone on to stardom. Fellow left-handed hitting first-baseman Anthony Rizzo is a perfect example. I remain hopeful that Singleton will turn things around and I think the 23-year old from Long Beach has a bright future. But I think that future starts with a trip to Fresno.

By signing him to a contract guaranteeing Singleton $10 million, the Astros have already taken care of Jon financially. Now the club has a responsibility to help take care of him as a person, not just a commodity. Singleton's 50-game suspension for marijuana use and his subsequent admission to being an addict remain part of the equation. Another failed drug test would result in a much lengthier suspension. Major League players are not tested for "drugs of choice" but minor leaguers are. Although they would never admit it, keeping Singleton on the big league roster to avoid the risk of another suspension could play into the Astros decision making process. In this case, let's hope the Astros act in the best interest of both the player and the team.