The Houston Infield – More than Just Altuve by Scott Strandberg February 20, 2015 It’s time for our Depth Chart Discussions to begin. In an effort to suss out every team, we’ve divided them into four parts (infield, outfield, bullpen, and rotation) and will begin breaking them down for you over the next few weeks. You can find them gathered here. The Houston Astros have a pretty interesting infield for fantasy purposes this year. Jose Altuve continues to be the No. 1 fantasy second baseman, which is where I’ve had him ranked since July. Altuve’s far from the only intriguing fantasy commodity in the Astros’ infield, so let’s take a look around the diamond. (As with my columns on the Yankees and Twins infields, I won’t include a separate section for the designated hitter. The DH will be covered position-by-position below.) CATCHER Evan Gattis Jason Castro Hank Conger Evan Gattis is likely just an emergency catcher in real life, seeing as the Astros have Castro and Conger. However, for fantasy purposes, he’s still catcher-eligible, and our experts here at Rotographs have him slotted in as the No. 3 fantasy catcher for 2015. There’s plenty of reason for optimism here, as moving from behind the dish should allow him considerably more playing time than he received in either of the last two seasons in Atlanta. Steamer has the 28-year-old projected for 29 homers. As long as he makes consistent enough contact to maintain an acceptable batting average, it certainly appears that Gattis will be one of the top fantasy catchers this year. The biggest question is how much you trust his playing time potential, as Mike Podhorzer pointed out a couple days ago. The Astros really do have quite a few options at 1B, OF and DH — but Gattis’ bat is too valuable to keep out of the lineup. I’m all-in on Gattis for 2015. Jason Castro was a disaster at the plate last year, as he failed in every way possible to live up to his breakout 2013 season. As it turned out, that inflated .351 BABIP from 2013 was every bit as unsustainable as it seemed. Furthermore, Castro just absolutely cannot hit lefties, as his career slash against southpaws sits at .201/.254/.306. His combination of decent power and regular playing time will make him relevant in AL-only and two-catcher leagues, but he can be safely ignored in mixers. Hank Conger is here to play some defense. If for some reason he ends up on your fantasy team, my advice is to drop him like an unnecessary theatre elective. FIRST BASE Chris Carter Jon Singleton Chris Carter is essentially a three true outcomes player, but when that profile references a guy who finished 2014 with the second-most homers in the majors, maybe it’s not such a bad thing. Brett Talley wrote a very good column on Carter back in October, placing his 2015 value somewhere in the $10-15 range. One interesting note about the 28-year-old is that I think his batting average actually has some upside. He’s just a .222 hitter in 1,500+ career plate appearances, but last year he managed to hit .227 despite a .267 BABIP that was the worst mark he’d ever recorded at any level. If — and this is a big if — he maintains his improved contact rate and his BABIP climbs back up 20 points, it wouldn’t shock me to see him hit in the .240-.250 range. In that case, we’d be talking about Carter as a serious mixed-league fantasy 1B, as opposed to the elite CI/Util option he currently represents. I’m intrigued enough that he’ll probably end up on a couple of my teams this year. I’m still not giving up on Jon Singleton. I’ve always been very high on him, to the point where I’ve written about him twice for this very site. The problem is that he was so extremely bad last year in the majors (.168/.285/.335) that it’s far from a guarantee that he’ll even break camp with the Astros. I don’t think he has nearly as much swing-and-miss in his bat as he showed last year, but even if he’s with the Astros on Opening Day, he’ll still be nothing more than a late-round flier in AL-only leagues on draft day. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a Singleton believer, and there’s a very good chance he ends up being fantasy-relevant in 2015. Still, realistically speaking, he’s not looking like much of a fantasy option at present. SECOND BASE Jose Altuve If I had a dime for every time Jose Altuve has disappointed me, I would have zero dimes. He’s just 24 years old and he won the batting title last year, while also stealing 56 bases. On top of that, he has enough pop that I think he’ll have several double-digit homer seasons in his career. Is last year’s .360 BABIP unsustainable? Probably, but the fact that he never strikes out should keep his average well above .300 regardless. Are those 56 steals repeatable? Eh, maybe. Do I care about such things? In this case, not really. It’s Altuve. He may only stand 5-foot-5, but he’s a certified G and a bona fide stud. And you can’t teach that. Nicholas Minnix wrote an excellent piece on how much regression to expect from Altuve coming into 2015. I recommend reading that entire article — as well as the other posts Nicholas linked to — but I agree with his synopsis so completely that I’m just going to block-quote it: It’s not nearly as easy as I thought it’d be to pick apart Altuve’s 2014 results, though. I’m now convinced that there may not be the kind of sharp decline some will predict. I think that his 2015 Steamer projection (.300/.342/.408, 36 stolen bases) might be conservative. A lot of things went right, but he seems to have put himself in position to make a lot of things go right pretty often. I’m viewing Altuve as a mid-to-late first rounder in mixed leagues, and he’s unquestionably my top fantasy second baseman for 2015. SHORTSTOP Jed Lowrie I’m not one of those people who thinks that Jed Lowrie had some sort of catastrophic failure of a 2014. The reason, however, is because I was never that much of a Lowrie believer to begin with. He’s a heck of a defender, and he’s shown a decent amount of pop. However, through 643 career major-league games, his offensive production has been just 3% above league-average. Should it be such a surprise that he was capable of putting up a season in which his offense was 7% below league-average, which is exactly what he did last year? There is some reason for optimism here, such as returning to the Astros, with whom he hit his career-high 16 homers in 2012. Still, Lowrie just isn’t the kind of guy that you can depend on as your primary fantasy shortstop. He offers absolutely nothing on the basepaths, so you’re relying on the power to show up (which it does about every other year), and/or counting on him to hit for a high average (his .290 season in 2013 was bookended by .244 and .249 marks in 2012 and 2014, respectively). If everything goes right, Lowrie is still capable of having a productive season for fantasy owners, but there’s way too many question marks for me to seriously consider drafting him in anything but AL-only leagues, or very deep mixers with MI slots. THIRD BASE Matt Dominguez Luis Valbuena You know, I’d probably like Luis Valbuena quite a bit as a sleeper, especially since I wrote glowingly of his adjustments last year. Unfortunately, he’ll likely split time pretty evenly with Matt Dominguez. In fact, our projections have Dominguez picking up 350 PA at third, compared to Valbuena’s 315. Dominguez has some pop, but he doesn’t offer anything else at all. Valbuena has an intriguing skill set, but he’s 29 years old and doesn’t have much of a track record. The real-life Astros have a pretty decent platoon with these two guys. Your fantasy team will live on, blissfully ignorant of the mess that would be owning either of them.