Today, Kyle Tucker told reporters that he came to spring training trying to make the Astros’ opening day roster. This comment, from a player many thought had a secure position, highlights the tension in the race for outfield slots. After the addition of Michael Brantley, Tucker’s job security is much more questionable. If Tucker has a spring like he did last year, it would cause the Astros to reevaluate the situation.
Realistically, the Astros have Josh Reddick in right, George Springer in center, and Brantley in left. With Aledmys Diaz possibly getting some starts in left and right field, the Astros need someone able to play center field. This would be the fourth outfielder, as of right now that would be between Tony Kemp and Jake Marisnick. If you were to ask AJ Hinch, he would say that neither had the upper hand at the moment.
Let the battle begin!
The Astros will go with the best player for the job, but one factor will override that. Kemp is out of options, while Marisnick still has one remaining. In other words, should Kemp not make the opening day roster, he will have to clear waivers to be assigned to Triple-A. That would not happen, but Marisnick can start the season in Triple-A.
Marisnick is the better defensive player and can hit for more power. Kemp is just a notch behind him defensively and can make better contact. Via Brian McTaggart, the Astros are trying to adjust Marisnick’s posture to avoid the strikeouts. Kemp has some pop, but his game is more geared for line drives to the gaps. Kemp (0.7) had a lower WAR than Marisnick’s 1.7 in 2018, but the 84 strikeouts in 235 at bats is hard to ignore.
After breaking out in 2017 with 16 homers and an OPS of .815, Marisnick injured his thumb while sliding and has taken a step back. This injury gave Derek Fisher a chance in the playoffs that year setting up his Game 5 of the World Series heroics. Fisher is on the outside looking in this spring, but he could get the call at some point in 2019.
Kemp would appear to have the upper hand right now; he made some great strides in 2018 to steal playing time from Marisnick after bouncing up and down between Triple-A and the MLB for years. But things could change if Tucker forces his way onto the roster. The bottom line is that it’s still early to predict who will win this battle, with position players reporting today.
Stats via Baseball Reference