McCormick locked in CF battle: 'I want that starting role'

Siri, Brinson also competing for Houston's center-field job

March 17th, 2022

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Reaching the Major Leagues at 26 years old, taking over as the starting center fielder for the Astros and playing in the World Series made for an unforgettable rookie season for . It also left him wanting even more.

In a whirlwind 2021, McCormick made the Opening Day roster for the first time, became the starter in center after Myles Straw was traded in July, lost the job following a left hand injury in August and then took over as the primary starter in the playoffs after fellow rookie Jake Meyers was injured in the American League Division Series.

With Meyers out to start the spring following surgery to repair a torn labrum, McCormick knows he has a terrific opportunity this season. He’s the likely frontrunner to start on Opening Day, with Jose Siri and Lewis Brinson, a non-roster signee, in the mix.

“I’m trying to focus on the present moment, focus on the now,” McCormick said. “I have an opportunity to start in center field this year. Obviously, I want to, but I don’t have a guaranteed spot on this team. I’m still fighting with Jose Siri and Lewis Brinson, but I want that starting role in center. I need to have a good Spring Training and I need to be focused every day. I can’t just think I have an open spot for myself.”

Especially considering manager Dusty Baker stopped short of calling McCormick the favorite for the job, something he did do Wednesday when he anointed prospect Jeremy Peña as the frontrunner to take over for free agent Carlos Correa as the club's starting shortstop.

“We’re kind of looking at everybody [in center],” Baker said. “[McCormick's] one of the guys that’s vying for that position. We’ve got Brinson in here. We got Siri, who did a good job. We’ll see. We’re not in the giveaway business; we’re in the earning business. I’m going to use what I saw last year and what I see in certain improvements for this year and try to combine what we need -- where you’re going to bat in the order … all those things are going to go into my decision.”

McCormick understands his shortcomings and the improvements he has to make. He slashed .257/.319/.477 with 14 homers and 50 RBIs last year in 108 regular-season games, but struck out 104 times in 284 at-bats. His swing-and-miss percentage of 35.2% was the highest on the club of any player with at least 110 at-bats. He drew only 25 walks.

“I’ve got to walk more,” he said. “I can’t strike out as much. I can’t swing the bat as much, which I learned last year. Sequences in the big leagues, everything is around the plate. It’s not easy just to walk. I’ve got to cut down the strikes, I’ve got to shorten up my swing. I have to have a better plan on my swing. My hands will drop and I’ll just top-spin balls or foul balls off. I’ve got to have a better plan and approach up there, because these guys are smart and know exactly what to throw me.”

McCormick, who started 20 games apiece in left field and right field and 29 in center last year, proved to be a solid defender, finishing tied for fifth in the Major Leagues -- with Straw -- in Outs Above Average among all outfielders. There are improvements to be made there, too.

“I want to be a little more under control in center field,” McCormick said.

Making those improvements will be vital for McCormick to keep his spot over Siri, who plays out of control at times but has tantalizing power, and Brinson, the veteran who spent the previous five years with the Marlins. Then, there’s Meyers, who was called up when Straw was traded and slashed .260/.323/.438 with six homers and 28 RBIs in 49 games.

Meyers underwent surgery on Nov. 10 after suffering his injury while making a catch in Game 4 of the ALDS against the White Sox, and he could miss the first two months of the season. McCormick is ready to seize his opportunity.

“It’s all right in front of me,” he said. “I just have to focus and take every day one at a time, and really get myself ready and geared up to make sure I can be out there as much as possible.”