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Getting to know the Astros: The position players

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Taking a deep dive into the Astros’ lineup

MLB: Houston Astros at Kansas City Royals Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

All year we’ve been previewing each series with a large post designed to get you primed on the upcoming opponent. Well, the upcoming series against the Astros is just a tad more important than any other series played this year, so we’re going to be a bit more in-depth here. Monday, we’ll get to know the position players. Tuesday, we’ll get to know the starting pitchers. Wednesday, we’ll get to know the bullpen. And Thursday, before the series finally gets underway, we’ll take a look at how both sides matchup position-by-position. Note that the roster has not been announced at the time of this writing, so this is simply a best guess of who will be present.

Three Bullet Points

  • With a 121 wRC+, the Astros were the best offense in all of baseball in 2017 by a huge margin. The gap between them and the second-place Yankees (13 points) was the same as the gap between the second-place Yankees and the 17th-place White Sox.
  • The most impressive part of this offense was their ability to combine power with contact skills as they led the league in both Isolated Power and strikeout rate. I went back as far as 1960 and could not find another instance of this happening.
  • Defensively, they are rated as well below-average overall by both DRS and UZR

Catchers

Brian McCann

The former Yankee was shipped to Houston this past winter for a couple of minor leaguers so New York could pave the way for a full-time role for Gary Sanchez. McCann is a bit past his prime at this point in his age-33 season, but he’s still a solid hitter and a very good one considering his position. His pull-happy approach along with his slow speed make him a very easy player to defend, which is why he can’t hit for a high average despite a strong ability to make contact. However, he’s not so easy to defend when he’s hitting the ball over the fence, something he did 18 times in 97 games this season. The lefty will be a power threat for this entire series at both parks. Speaking of his handedness, this would seemingly be a big advantage for the Red Sox considering the fact that they’ll likely have three lefties in their playoff rotation, but McCann doesn’t show any real splits depending on who he’s facing. Defensively, he is not much of an asset these days as Baseball Prospectus rates him negatively in terms of framing, blocking and throwing, albeit not by a significant margin in any area.

Evan Gattis

Joining McCann behind the plate is another former Brave in Gattis. The book on the big righty is fairly clear: He’s going up to hit dingers. Gattis is a huge presence at the plate and that shows with his power numbers. However, his power actually dropped off a bit this year, although he partially made up for that with increased contact skills. Gattis was better against righties than lefties this year but that was entirely due to a difference in batting average on balls in play. He crushes lefties and that could be bad news for this Red Sox rotation. Gattis is not a strong defensive catcher, but he’ll likely spend most of his time as the DH for Houston in this series.

MLB: Houston Astros at Texas Rangers Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

Juan Centeno

The Astros are in a strange position where they are likely going to carry three catchers on their playoff roster. Centeno is not an impressive offensive player, as he doesn’t hit for much power and doesn’t draw a ton of walks. When he’s at his best he’s spraying line drives all over the field for singles. Opinions on Centeno’s defense vary, but if he does play it will be as a defensive replacement for McCann as well as serving as insurance in case of an injury to McCann in a game during which Gattis is at DH. Max Stassi is also another option to serve this same insurance-type role.

Infielders

Jose Altuve

This dynamic Astros offense, and really the entire team, revolves around Altuve. The diminutive second baseman is going to be involved in some heated MVP debates once the season is over, but for now we just stand in awe of his talent. The one thing he’s not great at is drawing walks, something at which he is merely average. Everything else is superb. He makes an incredible amount of contact, and almost all of it is solid. This combined with legitimate speed makes him one of the best pure average hitters in all of baseball. That skillset, along with his lack of size, would lead one to assume there’s not much power here, but it’s Altuve so of course there is. He hit 24 homers in 2017 and he smacks a ton of doubles and triples, too. Then, when he reaches base, he’s going to put pressure on the defense whenever he gets the chance. Oh yeah, he’s also a solid defensive player at second base, too.

Carlos Correa

Altuve is the best player on the Astros and the face of the franchise, but Correa is right there to give Houston an absurd 1-2 punch both in the lineup and up the middle. The shortstop and former number one overall pick has lived up to all of the hype he received coming up through the minors. In terms of stature he’s a perfect compliment to Altuve as Correa is a monster and looks out of place at shortstop. Despite that, he does a good job in the field. It’s his bat that makes him so special, though. Like Altuve, Correa does everything well. He draws a ton of walks. He hits for a ton of power. He makes plenty of contact and hits for a high average. He’s even a good baserunner, though not one who will steal a ton of bases.

Alex Bregman

Bregman doesn’t get the same amount of hype as Correa and Altuve — and nor should he — but he is a really good player as well despite his lack of experience. Selected with the second overall pick in the same draft where the Red Sox picked up Andrew Benintendi, Bregman has turned into a really strong overall player at the plate. He hits for good power, though it comes more in the form of doubles power than over-the-fence. He hardly ever strikes out but still manages to walk a fair amount of the time. Above all else, it’s his bat-to-ball skills that make him so impressive. Hitting near the top of the lineup, he’s going to put up tough at bats every time he comes to the plate and it’s going to be hard to fool him with any pitch. Though he was drafted and developed as a shortstop he now spends most of his time at third base and is fine, if unspectacular, at the hot corner.

MLB: Houston Astros at Boston Red Sox Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Yuli Gurriel

For a long time, Gurriel was the premier player in Cuba and people in the States were wondering when he’d make is way to America and play in the MLB. He waited longer than many would have liked, but he and his younger brother Lourdes — who is in Toronto’s organization — both came Stateside last year. The elder Yuli was a bit of a disappointment in that first major-league season but the righty come back this year and looked much better. With an ultra-aggressive approach at the plate he makes a ton of contact and puts the ball in play in just about every at bat. Fortunately for him, he makes hard contact more often than not and has above-average power to boot. He’s not much of a defensive player, but that doesn’t matter much as he spends most of his time at first base.

Marwin Gonzalez

Generally speaking, the Astros offense is built around supremely talented players who have blossomed all at the same time. In Gonzalez, they have someone who does not fit that bill. Instead, he has broken out in a major and unexpected way this season. The switch hitter has been great against both righties and lefties this year, though he’s been particularly dominant against the former. Gonzalez completely revamped his approach at the plate this year, laying off bad pitches much more often. This has been a huge development as it’s not only made his walk-rate jump way up but also led to stronger contact. That, combined with Gonzalez being part of this flyball revolution, has resulted in big power numbers as well. He’s a threat right in the middle of this Astros lineup. Defensively, it’s probably not fair to include Gonzalez strictly as an infielder since he plays all over the diamond and could spend time both in the infield and the outfield in this series.

Outfielders

George Springer

While the Astros outfield is not nearly as impressive as their infield, they do have a star-caliber player manning center field (and sometimes right field) in Springer. The UConn product — as well as Matt Barnes’ college teammate, something we’ll hear plenty about on broadcasts in this series if the latter makes the Red Sox roster — was a first-round pick who has turned into a fantastic player for Houston. While his ability to make contact was a major concern when he first got to the majors, he’s improved in that area in every year of his career and now makes more contact than the average player. He combines that with plenty of walks and huge power from the right side. The one area of his game that has seen a decline is his baserunning, as he’s merely fine in this area rather than the threat he used to be. Defensively he can play well in either center or right field

Josh Reddick

Red Sox fans know Reddick, of course, as the left-handed outfielder came up through Boston’s farm system. After showing some promise in a couple of major-league stints, the Red Sox traded Reddick to Oakland in the Andrew Bailey deal. The outfielder spent a few solid years with the A’s before signing with Houston this past offseason. He has spent most of the year in the long-end of a platoon, but if putting forth his best career season at the plate. As always, he’s making a ton of contact while hitting for good power, but this year he’s also making more solid contact in general that is leading to more hits. The Red Sox didn’t get to see Reddick in the last series of the regular season due to injury, but he should be ready for the ALDS. It’s unclear how many starts he’ll get with the Red Sox being so southpaw-heavy in their rotation, but even if he doesn’t start he’ll be a major presence off the bench late in games.

Carlos Beltran

If we’re honest, on merits alone Beltran probably shouldn’t be on Houston’s postseason roster. The veteran slugger and (should-be) future Hall of Famer has had a really rough year as Houston’s DH in 2017. The problem is fairly simple: He just can’t make solid contact anymore. His power has dropped off in a huge way and his BABIP is lower than it’s ever been. At 40 years old a drop off like this isn’t a huge surprise, though the extent to which he’s fallen in such a short time is still startling. All that being said, he’s had great success in the playoffs before so I would bet on him being on the roster, though with Gattis getting more of the at bats at DH.

Cameron Maybin

Maybin is ostensibly a bench player, though he could see a whole lot of starts in this series. If the Astros stick to their regular season plan of platooning Reddick, Maybin is the logical player with whom to pair Reddick in a platoon. Maybin isn’t a great hitter and would be the clear weak link in any lineup that features him, but he can run into some hard contact and goes on plenty of hot streaks. When he starts, Maybin will push Springer over to right field as he’ll handle center. When he doesn’t start, Maybin will be the Astros number one pinch running option off the bench.

Derek Fisher

Fisher is a rookie and one of the few Astros who is prone to the strikeout. A left-handed bat, he probably won’t be getting too many starts in this series if he even gets one. He is a solid bench player, though, as he can play both corner outfield spots pretty well and is also a fast runner for late-game situations. He will likely be the primary pinch runner in games where Maybin gets the start.