HOUSTON -- This will be an important spring for Astros infielder Tyler White, who made impressive strides last year and has shown flashes of being a viable big league hitter. Finding a spot on the 25-man roster will be the biggest challenge for the 27-year-old.
White spent most of last season at Triple-A Fresno, but he had a good showing at the plate in 22 games with the World Series champion Astros in 2017. He hit .279 with nine extra-base hits, including three homers, for an .853 OPS. He appeared in 19 games at first base, four at second base, two in left field and, yes, even pitched an inning.
"It's the same as every year," said White, who made the Opening Day roster in 2016 and was the American League Player of the Week with a torrid start in the season's first week. "Just go out there ready to play and go out there and play well in Spring Training and see what happens. I can't make the decisions, so I have to go out there and play my best baseball."
A right-hander, White hit .300 with 22 doubles, one triple, 25 homers, 89 RBIs and an .898 OPS in 111 games last year for Fresno. He was recalled to Houston in late July for a couple of weeks -- he went 4-for-5 with two homers and five RBIs on Aug. 4 vs. Toronto -- and then came back up in September. He was on the Astros' AL Division Series roster against the Red Sox but didn't see any action.
Making the Astros as a position player who's not in the team's core will be challenging, barring injuries. The starting infield is set -- Alex Bregman at third, Carlos Correa at shortstop, Jose Altuve at second and Yuli Gurriel at first -- and super-utility player Marwin Gonzalez will get plenty of at-bats when he's not in the outfield.
Gurriel will be suspended for the first five games of next season, a punishment handed down during the World Series after he made an offensive gesture toward Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish. That could open the door for White to make the Opening Day roster, but the competition for permanent work in Houston will be stiff.
The Astros figure to carry 13 pitchers once again, which means the position-player group will include five infielders, along with two catchers (Brian McCann and Evan Gattis) and four outfielders (George Springer, Josh Reddick, Jake Marisnick and Derek Fisher). That leaves one spot, which could be a third catcher -- Max Stassi? -- or extra infielder or outfielder.
Tony Kemp can play left field and the infield, so he will be in the mix for the final roster spot, along with White, A.J. Reed and J.D. Davis. Of course, the Astros could still bring in another bat, but White already has his work cut out for him.