Luhnow: Time for slugger Singleton to perform
HOUSTON -- As the Astros slowly come together this offseason as a more complete team -- the re-signing of outfielder Colby Rasmus and reliever Tony Sipp and the trade for reliever Ken Giles filled key pieces -- the number of holes on the roster gets smaller.
No one can have enough pitching, and the Astros are still searching for middle-of-the-rotation starters in mid-December. With the outfield, middle infield and starting catcher set, there remains uncertainty at the corner-infield spots, which could still be a focus of an upgrade as the offseason progresses.
By now, you've heard the names. Luis Valbuena will start at first base or third base, general manager Jeff Luhnow said, and Minor Leaguers A.J. Reed (No. 4 on Astros' Top 30 prospects list, per MLBPipeline.com), Tyler White (No. 28) and Matt Duffy (No. 30) will be in the mix at both positions, along with Jon Singleton. Luhnow said at the Winter Meetings that the first-base job was Singleton's to lose, though manager A.J. Hinch said he sees it as an open competition.
"Jon Singleton has answered a lot of questions in the Minor Leagues, and he hasn't been given an opportunity, certainly on my watch, to play significant days in the big leagues," Hinch said. "We didn't give him enough at-bats last year due to a lot of reasons, and we weren't afforded, sort of, the opening."
Singleton, 24, remains the wild card at the corners. He's crushed Minor League pitching the last couple of years, but hasn't been able to swing the bat consistently well enough in the big leagues to stick on the roster. Last season, he hit .191 with one homer and six RBIS in 58 plate appearances, drawing 10 walks against 17 strikeouts. At Triple-A Fresno, he hit .254 with 25 doubles, 22 homers and 83 RBIs in 448 plate appearances, drawing 64 walks against 99 strikeouts.
Signed to a five-year, $10 million contract the same year he was first called up to the big leagues (2014), Singleton's left-handed power is enticing, but now is the time to prove his worth considering the options the Astros have, including slugger Reed knocking on the door this spring.
"Where our club is today, [Singleton] needs to perform to stay on the team, and he knows that," Luhnow said. "He knows coming into Spring Training, it's his job to lose, but he's gotta keep it. He's gotta perform to help the club win games, and he's capable of doing that. I have confidence that he'll step up to the occasion."
Having a platoon at first or third isn't ideal. That means carrying an extra position player, which could get tricky when it comes to roster composition. Duffy and White hit right-handed, while Reed and Singleton are lefty bats, so there are options.
"We can't have all four of them probably, but three of them, we could figure out a way to do that," Luhnow said. "It would come at the expense of carrying an extra pitcher. It's something you're going to sure talk a lot about during the spring."