HOUSTON – The shoulder injury suffered by Astros outfielder Jake Meyers in the American League Division Series last month led to him undergoing surgery Wednesday to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder, while clouding the club’s outfield picture for 2022.
Meyers was expected to be the Astros’ starting center fielder on Opening Day next year, but the team said Wednesday the 25-year-old won’t be ready for the start of the season. Meyers injured his throwing shoulder crashing into the outfield wall while chasing a ball in Chicago in Game 4 of the ALDS and didn’t play in the rest of the postseason.
How much time Meyers misses will depend on his recovery and rehabilitation process, but the Astros could be looking at Chas McCormick as their Opening Day center fielder. That’s just one option, though, considering right fielder Kyle Tucker's ability to play center field, as well. Starting left fielder Michael Brantley can play right and designated hitter Yordan Alvarez can play left, though the Astros would be sacrificing defense in that alignment.
“It’s too soon to tell at this point,” general manager James Click said when asked how long Meyers will be out. “He will need to get a little bit of distance from the surgery before we really have a good feel on that. It will also depend on which skills come back first. He might be cleared to hit before he’s cleared to throw, so we’ll kind of have to see at what point he’s got enough of that back to get back on the field.”
Meyers began the season at Triple-A Sugar Land and was called up when the Astros traded Myles Straw to Cleveland. He hit .260/.323/.438 with six homers and 28 RBIs in 49 games in the regular season and played solid outfield defense.
So, what are their other options?
The Meyers injury could motivate the Astros to acquire an outfielder via trade or free agency this winter. Among the outfielders on the free agent market are Nick Castellanos, Michael Conforto, Starling Marte, Chris Taylor, Mark Canha, Kyle Schwarber and Kris Bryant.
Without Meyers, the only healthy outfielders on the 40-man roster are Brantley, McCormick, Jose Siri, Tucker and Alvarez. Houston’s top outfield prospect is Pedro Leon, who they gave the highest bonus in the 2020-21 international class, signing him for $4 million in January. He played mostly center field in the Minor Leagues this year for the Astros after playing primarily shortstop in Cuba. He's currently playing in the Arizona Fall League.
“[The injury] removes an option for at least some portion of the season, but we also don’t want to overreact and go do something that’s going to impact the roster when he is back and healthy,” Click said. “Do we want to do something short-term and try to cover ourselves? Potentially, but we do feel good about the internal options. I think McCormick and Siri have both shown they can hold down center field, both sides of the ball.”
What about McCormick?
McCormick made his debut in ’21 and split playing time with Meyers in center in the last two months of the season following the Straw trade. McCormick hit .257/.319/.447 with 14 homers and 50 RBIs in 108 games, but struck out 104 times in 284 at-bats.
McCormick showed his defensive prowess in right field in a 9-5 win over the Angels on Sept. 22. He went 3-for-5 with a run scored and made three terrific defensive plays, including a throw from right field to cut down Shohei Ohtani at the plate to prevent the winning run and end the 10th inning.
“I think he got off to a great start at the plate and the league made some adjustments to him and it’s up to him to adjust back,” Click said. “As far as defense goes, I thought he was well-above average. I didn’t really appreciate how well he had done out there until some of our guys showed me some of his Statcast numbers and some of the plays above average and four- and five-star plays and that kind of stuff. … Overall, he’s shown that he is a well above-average center fielder.”