Second base riddle: Altuve? Or DeShields? Or Paredes? (Answer: all three.)
The decision to move Jimmy Paredes back to second base, the position he’s played more than any other since his professional career began, has little to do with Jose Altuve, or Delino DeShields, or anyone occupying his old position at third base, for that matter.
Ballplayers are evaluated, discussed, scrutinized and sometimes moved around from the moment they join an organization. General manager Jeff Luhnow and his staff kept a close eye on Paredes, acquired a couple of years ago from the Yankees in the Lance Berkman trade, and decided the athletic infielder should move back to second base.
And that’s where he’ll play in the Minor Leagues. The general belief is Paredes will eventually be a mainstay in the Majors. The goal is to get the most out of him in the role he’s best suited for. That role, according to the club’s talent evaluators, is not third base.
When the decision was announced, questions immediately popped up regarding the futures of Altuve and DeShields. It made some wonder if moving Paredes is a direct reflection on the Astros’ confidence, or lack thereof, in Altuve’s abilities.
The answer is pretty simple, really. Decisions regarding Paredes have to do with Paredes, and only Paredes. This isn’t about Altuve or DeShields or any other middle infielders in the organization.
Baseball is unlike the other sports. There are many layers to an organization. Most players who are drafted — save for the very few Stephen Strasburg-like prodigies — won’t reach a big league field for three years, minimum. That’s why the Minor Leagues exist. They are designed to turn young, raw ballplayers into Major League contributors.
Hundreds of players comprise a Minor League system. Around four percent are actually prospects that will make it to the big leagues. Even fewer will last more than a couple of years.
The best organizations have talented players at every position throughout the system. They don’t look at their All-Star shortstop on the Major League level and shrug and say, “Well, looks like we don’t need any other good shortstops in our system.” A dozen roadblocks can mess up even the best plan. Injury. Inconsistency. Free agency. A can’t-miss prospect who gets to the big leagues and blows out his arm. Or finds out he can’t hit a Major League curveball.
Take the Yankees’ Joba Chamberlain, for example. He was a sure-fire, can’t-miss star. Except, of course, that he’s not. First there was the elbow surgery. Now we hear that he has a possible career-ending ankle injury, born from a trampoline mishap.
More than a decade ago, Tim Redding blew through the Astros’ Minor League system with such force that most considered him a better pitcher than Roy Oswalt.
The only problem with that theory was that it was wrong. As it turned out, Redding lacked two things: maturity, and the ability to make adjustments when no Major League hitters were swinging at his 0-2 pitch. Or his 1-2 pitch. Or 2-2 and 3-2.
Staff ace? Not so much. Master of the 100-pitch-count-after-four-innings? Most definitely.
That’s why baseball teams are layered in such a way that gives them Plans B, C and even, in some cases, D and E. There are eight levels in the Minor Leagues. Prospects who go through the system endure a steady climb to the big leagues, some quicker than others. There are no guarantees the player who shows an enormous skill set in Rookie Ball will still have that going for him when he moves up to Double-A.
Altuve has less than a half-season of experience as a Major League second baseman. He shows great potential and will be at second base on Opening Day on April 6. Is he destined for a 10-year career? Is he a future All-Star?
DeShields was a first-round draft pick a couple of years ago and was converted from an outfielder to a second baseman. The Astros like his athleticism and speed and believe he has a future as a big league infielder. Does he?
The answer to both questions is a resounding…maybe. But who out there really knows, with 100 percent certainty?
Baseball organizations — the good ones — are about depth. Having too many good players in a system at one position is a good problem to have. Depth gives teams flexibility. It allows them have a strong Major League team that is built with home-grown players, while giving them trading chips when there’s a need in another area. It also allows teams to replenish the roster with talent when a player prices himself out of payroll parameters.
In certain circumstances, of course, adjustments have to be made. Lance Berkman became an outfielder around the same time Jeff Bagwell signed a long-term contract extension. Jonathan Singleton was clearly going nowhere as a first baseman in Philadelphia’s system, given its recent commitment to Ryan Howard through 2017. And that’s one of the reasons the Astros were able to trade for him.
Why were the Phillies able to land Hunter Pence in a blockbuster trade last year? Simple: they had the surplus of prospects to offer up. They had a solid farm system that was contributing in two ways: it produced Major League talent capable of getting to the World Series, with even more players available as trade bait to make the product at the very top that much more powerful.
If an organization has one good shortstop, or one good catcher, or one good second baseman, and no options coming through the Minor Leagues, well, that’s where you start to see “100″ and “losses” used together in a sentence.
Depth is the single most important component of a healthy organization. Baseball teams cannot survive without it. So don’t fret over the Paredes/Altuve/DeShields conundrum. Be glad it’s here.
Speaking of prospects, several Astros staff members and players involved with the 2011 Arizona Fall League championship team received rings for winning the AFL Championship.
The players: Jay Austin, Jason Castro, Jake Goebbert, Kody Hinze, Dallas Keuchel, Jason Stoffel, Josh Zeid and athletic trainer Eric Montague.
Photos from the ceremony: