With spring training in full swing, most teams are more or less complete. Obviously there are some players still left to be signed, such as Ian Desmond and Austin Jackson, as well as positional battles that will play out in spring training, but most of the teams know what their squad will look like come Opening Day. For some clubs, that is more reassuring than for others.
The Houston Astros are a good team. So good in fact, that they won 87 games last season on their way to their first playoff appearance since 2005, when they lost in the World Series. Coming off a loss in last year’s divisional round, the Astros are looking to take their ascent back to relevance to the next level. Overall, at least on paper, the Astros look like an even better team than they did last year.
Returning are the likes of Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Gomez, Colby Rasmus, as well as the next shortstop superstar Carlos Correa. With Dallas Keuchel returning at the top of the rotation, the Astros look set to return to the playoffs and make an even deeper run. The bullpen addition of Ken Giles should only help that cause, making the Astros look like one of the favorites in all of the American League.
However, even with the improvements the team made this offseason, as well as all their returning star power, there is still one hole on the Astros roster that is at least some cause for concern.
While almost every position on the diamond is an area of strength for the Astros, one position is still a big question mark. Following the release of Chris Carter earlier in the offseason, the Astros seem set to roll with Jon Singleton as their Opening Day first baseman.
Yes, that Jon Singleton. The very same one who signed a five year, $10 million contract with three option years before even stepping foot on a major-league field in 2014. Based on his stellar minor-league performance, the Astros thought they had something truly special, and jumped at the opportunity to keep him around long term, and save some money in the process.
As is well known by now, the immediate results were not anywhere near what the Astros had hoped. Singleton ended up playing in 95 games for the Astros in 2014, slashing just .168/.285/.335 in 362 plate appearances while striking out in 37 percent of those appearances. Singleton returned to Triple A to start off the 2015 season, and returned to his previous minor-league success. After sustaining his success through much of the first half, Singleton once again appeared back in the major leagues, to once again poor results. In sporadic appearances over 19 games in the second half, Singleton slashed .191/.328/.298 in 58 plate appearances, once again struggling to prove his worth in the big leagues.
Arguably Singleton was slightly better in 2015, but that’s not saying much. Even so, with Chris Carter now in Milwaukee Brewers camp, Singleton looks to be the guy going forward for the Astros at first base, at least for the beginning of the season. Despite all the strengths all around the diamond, as well as in the pitching staff and the bullpen, the Astros seem like they are actually going to start the year with Singleton as their first baseman.
I know what Astros fans are going to say: “A.J. Reed is in the minors and is almost ready for a call up.” That may be so, but that likely won’t be at least for a few months into the season, at least until the Super Two deadline passes. Even if Singleton does face plant and Reed does get the call up, does a playoff team really want to rely on a rookie with no sort of serviceable back up? Obviously we’re all hoping Reed comes up and continues his dominance, but on the off chance that doesn’t happen, the Astros need some sort of contingency plan that isn’t Jon Singleton.
For a team with playoff aspirations, and a not so small chance of a World Series appearance, Jon Singleton is not the answer. The Astros have one of the best and deepest rosters in all of the American League, but their giant question mark at first base has to make them at least a little bit nervous. A.J. Reed may be the player we all think he is but, in the meantime, Jon Singleton is the player we all think he is. And for the 2016 Houston Astros, that’s not good enough.
Preston Tucker is going to be tried at first base this spring. If he can show a decent ability to play defense at first then he could be the short term answer. His bat is certainly major league ready.