Houston Astros: 3 Most Intriguing Spring Training Position Battles

Marcelo Villa@@_marcelovillaFeatured Columnist IIIMarch 22, 2012

Houston Astros: 3 Most Intriguing Spring Training Position Battles

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    The Houston Astros have some intriguing position battles going on in spring training. While 2012 is slated to be a rebuilding year, there's still potential on this roster.

    The Astros are young at almost every position and lack of experience could be what really hurts them next season. A .500 win percentage could be a bit of a reach, but developing talent will be the bigger priority as the Astros prepare for the future.

    Houston's best player is a 35-year-old slugger who showed last year that he may be nearing the end of the road. Despite the off-year, Carlos Lee led the team in every major offensive category, which proves the Astros need the younger guys to step up.

    Three particular position battles have been brewing in spring training as the start to the season gets closer.

Up the Middle

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    Jose Altuve has been hot this spring with a .304 average, but the 21-year-old may not be ready for the big leagues in 2012.

    Matt Downs is backing up Altuve, as well as Carlos Lee this season. The 28-year-old utility infielder isn't the best option defensively at second base, but he does have some power. Last season, he hit 10 home runs with 41 RBI.

    Altuve may not have a big bat, but he's a better defender. That may be more important for a team that doesn't have dominant pitchers aboard.

    Altuve is quite young to start at the big leagues already, but if he succeeds then he could be apart of the Astros' future plan. If offense is a problem, they could go to Downs.

Prediction: Jose Altuve

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    Jose Altuve's minor league career was pretty impressive. If he can come anywhere near those numbers in the majors, then he could be Houston's second baseman for years to come.

    This is the same guy who hit .389 with 10 home runs and stole 24 bases in the minors. The Astros noticed Altuve's potential and decided to give him his chance earlier than expected, but is he mature enough to handle the workload of a major leaguer?

    We'll see when he starts the season up the middle.

Right Field

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    Brian Bogusevic is the favorite to be the starting right-fielder on opening day, but the Astros did bring in Fernando Martinez from the New York Mets to compete.

    Houston has cringed watching both men play this spring. At this point, right field isn't set in stone. Bogusevic has the edge playing with the Astros last season, but this spring he's hitting just .115 at the plate. Martinez has been the better hitter but a .174 average isn't saying much.

    Utility outfielder J.B. Shuck is having a nice spring batting .290 with an OBP of .333, but he's likely competing for a spot on the bench. Also in the mix is 33-year-old has-been Jack Cust. The fact that he hasn't collected a single hit this spring doesn't bode well for him.

    Bogusevic and Martinez will be the top candidates with Shuck following up the rear.

Prediction: Brian Bogusevic

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    Unless Fernando Martinez blows up in the remaining spring games, I don't see Brian Bogusevic losing his job to the new guy.

    Bogusevic hit .287 with 15 home runs and four RBI in 2011, which does prove he can fill the role of an everyday outfielder. He's not going to hit 30 home runs in a season, but he plays average defense and gives you what he can on offense.

    If Bogusevic falters then Martinez may get a chance to step in, but his ceiling is just as high as his counterpart.

Hot Battle for the Hot Corner

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    The competition for third base couldn't get any more heated with three qualified candidates vying for the position.

    Ideally, Jimmy Paredes was the favorite to earn the job over Chris Johnson after the strides he made last season, but now Brett Wallace has entered the mix. The Astros moved Wallace to third due to the fact that Carlos Lee will be playing first base next season.

    Paredes is recovering from a left wrist injury that has slowed his spring production. Wallace has taken advantage of the opportunity hitting .321 with six RBI and a home run this spring. To make the decision even more difficult, Johnson is off to a very hot start hitting .367.

    Once labeled a free-swinging spirit, Johnson appears to be making good contact with the ball now and could finally be maturing as a hitter.

    Wallace and Johnson are making a strong push for the job but is it enough to overthrow Paredes?

Prediction: Jimmy Paredes

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    Brett Wallace and Chris Johnson may be playing well in spring, but Jimmy Paredes played better during last season. That will probably be the reason he gets the nod at the start of the season.

    Paredes hit .286 with 18 RBI in 2011 while Johnson struggled. Wallace, on the other hand, is returning to a position he played in college, but after playing first base last season he may be ready to take over third at the major league level.

    If Paredes struggles early or is unable to heal from his injury in time, then the Astros may look at Wallace or Johnson.