Around the Horn: Infield a strength for Astros

Competition at corner spots, with Altuve and Correa locked in up the middle

January 27th, 2016

This is the second of a six-part Around the Horn series that will take a position-by-position look at the Astros' projected starters and backup options heading into next season. Up next: infield.

HOUSTON -- As a whole, the Astros have good reason to be very confident in their infield for 2016: They have a three-time All-Star, former batting champion and Gold Glove winner at second base in Jose Altuve and the 2015 American League Rookie of the Year at shortstop in Carlos Correa.

The corner spots carry less star power, but veteran Luis Valbuena figures to be the starter at third base after bashing a career-high 25 homers last year and providing a steady hand defensively. The biggest question mark is at first base, where the starter will be determined from a group that includes Jon Singleton, top prospect A.J. Reed and Minor Leaguers Tyler White and Matt Duffy.

Houston also has one of the top bench players in the game in Marwin Gonzalez, a switch-hitter who played all four infield spots last year and hit .279 with 12 homers and 34 RBIs.

"I'm certainly happy with the stability we have on our infield coming back with Altuve and Correa up the middle, Valbuena primarily at third and Marwin Gonzalez playing everywhere," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "I'll be paying close attention to the battle at first base for playing time, and that could have as many names put together as we can come up with, trying to find the best solution to help us win."

The battle for playing time at first will be a key storyline this spring, especially with the departure of Chris Carter. Singleton has tremendous raw power and has destroyed Triple-A pitching, so will this be the year it translates to the Major League level? If so, the Astros would be thrilled.

Reed, who is ranked as baseball's top first base prospect by, wasn't in great shape in his first Spring Training a year ago and will be coming to big league camp for the first time with a chance to win a job. The slugger hit a combined .340 with 34 homers and 127 RBIs between Double-A Corpus Christi and Class A Advanced Lancaster, but the fact he hasn't faced Triple-A pitching could lead the Astros to start him in the Minor Leagues.

White, the intriguing 25-year-old prospect who hit a combined .325 with 99 RBIs and a .442 on-base percentage last year at Corpus Christi and Triple-A Fresno, could force his way into the picture with his bat. He finished last season with 73 strikeouts and 84 walks. Duffy can play third or first, along with Valbuena. Evan Gattis has lost weight in an attempt to be more versatile this year and could get time at first as well.

Colin Moran, the former No. 6 overall pick, will be in the mix at third and could eventually supplant Valbuena, while versatile hands like Joe Sclafani and Nolan Fontana battle for playing time. The Astros recently signed veteran infielder Danny Worth, as well.

"We'll have a lot of guys to look at," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "There's no guarantees for anybody at this point. We know Valbuena is going to be on the team. We just don't know what position he's going to be playing, and fortunately he's good at both [first and third]. I'm comfortable that between those options, we're going to find a combination that's going to work well for us this season."