Alex Bregman Struggling to Find Success in Houston

Alex Bregman hasn’t known much struggle in his baseball career. If anyone kept statistics from little league, I’m sure Bregman’s would be ridiculous. The stats from high school are ridiculous, as Bregman hit .514 with three home runs as a freshman shortstop at Albuquerque Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico en route to a state championship victory in 2009. As a sophomore, he played for the United States’ 16U national team and hit .564 on the gold-medal winning team at the COPABE Pan-American Baseball Championship in Mexico. That year, he won the Dick Case Award as USA Baseball’s player of the year. As a junior at Albuquerque, Bregman hit a ridiculous .678 and slugged an unfathomable 19 home runs, a New Mexico state record. That fall, he was part of the USA Baseball 18U national team that won gold at the IBF World Championship.

Bregman was considered first-round talent heading into the 2012 MLB Draft, but five games into his senior year he broke a finger on his throwing hand while fielding a ground ball, ending his season and squashing his first-round dreams. For perhaps the first time in his baseball career, Bregman struggled, and before the draft he declared he would not sign unless he was taken in the first round. The Boston Red Sox, headed by new general manager Ben Cherington, balked at Bregman’s proclamation and selected him in the 29th round of that year’s draft. Standing by his word, Bregman elected to continue his career at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. In just three short years, he would have a second chance to hear his name called in the first round.

Bregman became the Tigers’ starting shortstop on day one and immediately became one of the most consistent and dynamic players in the country. In his 196-game career, he slashed .337/.409/.514 over nearly 800 plate appearances, knocking 56 doubles, ten triples, and 21 home runs. He also stole 66 bases in 83 chances (79.5 percent success rate) and walked 87 times against just 68 strikeouts. In his senior year, Bregman hit .323/.412/.535 with 22 doubles, nine home runs, and 38 steals while walking almost half as often as he struck out (36:22 BB:K).

Less than a week before Bregman and the rest of the Tigers took the field at the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, the Houston Astros rewarded Bregman’s efforts by taking him with the second overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft. The only player taken ahead of Bregman was Dansby Swanson, who also played shortstop at SEC-rival and 2014 National Champion Vanderbilt University. Bregman was slightly smaller, and his 2015 numbers didn’t match up with Swanson’s, but their career numbers were nearly identical. Swanson signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks for $6.5 million, while the Astros gave Bregman a bonus worth $5.9 million and assigned him to Low-A Quad Cities of the Midwest League. Despite coming perhaps later than he would have liked, Bregman was finally a first-round pick and headed off to begin a professional career.

Bregman got off to a good start with Quad Cities, batting .310/.356/.429 with 13 hits in his first nine games, including a pair of doubles and his first professional home run. The next nine games went about as poorly as the first nine did well, with Bregman collecting just six hits over 38 plate appearances for a .182/.289/.212 line. Over the next 11 games, however, Bregman walked twelve times against seven whiffs and hit .270/.440/.324, giving him a .259/.368/.330 line for the year. Despite the lackluster average and slugging percentage, Bregman impressed enough to get the call up to High-A Lancaster of the California League on July 27.

Finishing the season with Lancaster, Bregman played in 37 games and made 178 plate appearances, hitting .319/.364/.475 with a 12:17 BB:K ratio. For the season, he combined to hit .294/.366/.415 with 13 doubles, four triples, and four homers while walking 29 times and striking out 30. Bregman’s biggest struggles, however, came in the field as he made 16 errors in just over 550 innings at shortstop, good for a .951 fielding percentage. While Bregman’s unimpressive play in the field wasn’t a driving factor, there were some talk in the offseason about a position change; the middle of the Astros’ infield was plugged up for the forseeable future by rising stars Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve at shortstop and second base, respectively. Bregman looked to fit in best with the big-league club at third base or left field, some speculated.

Bregman saw limited action in major-league spring training to begin 2016, struggling to the tune of a .087/.192/.087 line, singling twice in 23 at-bats while walking thrice and striking out nine times in 13 games. He began the regular season with the Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks of the Texas League and showed no signs of rust, despite the tough spring. In 62 games with Corpus Christi, Bregman clubbed 16 doubles and 14 homers and posted an excellent 42:26 BB:K ratio, finishing with a .297/.415/.559 line. Bregman’s performance in the field was slightly better the prior season, making ten errors in 223 chances at shortstop for a .955 fielding percentage. He also made the foretold transition to third base, where he made one error in 33 chances.

After his torrid start to the season in Double-A, Bregman matriculated to Triple-A Fresno of the Pacific Coast League, where the 22-year-old was four-and-a-half years younger than the average player. He played 18 games with Fresno and hit .333/.373/.641 with six doubles and six home runs in 83 plate appearances. Bregman continued to play shortstop primarily, but also appeared in two games at third base and three in left field. As a reward for his excellent play to begin 2016, Bregman was selected to appear in the 2016 Futures Game at Petco Park in San Diego on July 10 prior to the MLB All-Star game. Bregman led the U.S. squad with a 3-for-5 performance, smacking a single, double, and triple in an 11-3 loss.

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images North America

Alex Bregman lines a triple off of St. Louis Cardinals prospect Alex Reyes — who impressed scouts with 100 mph heat and struck out four in 1.2 innings of work for the World team — in the 2016 Futures Game in San Diego. (Photo: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images North America)

With the Texas Rangers regressing from their hot first half and the Astros looking to make a push for the American League West, rumors began to circulate in mid-July that Houston was considering promoting Bregman to the big leagues. On July 24, it was announced that the Astros would, in fact, be calling Bregman up and making him the first player from the 2015 draft class to make his MLB debut.

Bregman began his big-league career 0-for-18, striking out four times and walking twice. In his sixth game, on July 31, Bregman finally broke through for his first MLB hit in the third inning of a game in Detroit while facing Tigers hurler Mike Pelfrey. Despite the milestone, the Astros and 2015 Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel were rocked to the tune of an 11-0 loss at the hands of the Tigers.

Since his call-up, Bregman has gone just two-for-38 with four walks and ten strikeouts in 42 plate appearances with the Astros. His struggles have been mirrored in the team’s record since his promotion, as Houston has limped to a 3-8 record since Bregman’s debut on July 25. In that time, the Astros have dropped three games in the standings and now sit 5.5 games behind the Rangers in the AL West as of August 6. The lone bright spot in Bregman’s brief MLB stint has been his defense, as he’s transitioned to playing third base regularly and has yet to make an error in 82.0 innings at the hot corner.

While the Astros’ struggles since his debut aren’t directly attributable to Bregman’s performance, he also hasn’t come even close to providing the boost that the team might’ve expected when deciding to promote him after just 18 Triple-A contests. Luckily for Bregman, the Astros’ infield has enough talent up the middle in Correa and Altuve, so it’s not as if anyone’s looking for the 22-year-old to carry the club going forward. However, if he continues to be detrimentally bad offensively, the Astros might have no choice but to send Bregman back to Fresno to get himself back on track.

Alex Bregman has’t failed often in his career, but now he’s failing in a major way. The failures themselves, however, will not dictate his future — unless he allows them to. At just 22 years old, there’s plenty of time for Bregman to bounce back from this initial slump. It’s quite obvious that Bregman has the skills to play well at a high level, but at this point it’s going to be more about his mental fortitude than his swing mechanics or approach at the plate. Baseball is hard — and Alex Bregman is finally getting a taste of that. Baseball is weird, too, and it’s not inconceivable that following an 0-for-3 night on Friday that Bregman goes on a hot streak over the next week and makes everyone forget that he was ever slumping. If that doesn’t happen, though, Bregman’s mindset and attitude will determine whether or not he can turn himself around and become a regular for Houston in 2017 and beyond.

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