That sputtering start out of the gate feels like a lifetime ago.
Yes, after a gruesome April and a cautiously encouraging May, the Astros turned the corner, quite sharply. The club now sits just 2.5 games behind Texas in the AL West standings, and their odds of making the AL playoffs are hovering around 60 percent. That could swing even further in the coming days, thanks to a pair of high-profile roster moves: yesterday's promotion of super-prospect Alex Bregman and last week’s signing of Cuban all-star Yulieski Gourriel.
Who are these guys, exactly? What can Astros fans expect to see from them in August and September?
Let’s start with Gourriel. The 32-year-old third baseman (and son of a former Cuban star) got his first taste of pro ball 15 years ago, at the tender age of 17. (Bregman was only 5 at the time, Carlos Correa just 4!) In the decade-and-a-half since, before defecting this past February, he logged more than 5,000 career plate appearances in Cuba, slashing .337/.443/.582 with 239 home runs. Brian Cartwright does modeling that tries to translate international statistics into the American context, and he estimates an on-base-percentage of .330 and a slugging percentage of .458, numbers that are nearly identical to the production the club is currently receiving from Luis Valbuena, their overachieving third baseman.
On defense, Baseball America's Ben Badler considers Gourriel solid: "athletic, agile and has quick reactions off the bat," with good hands and a plus-plus arm. General manager Jeff Luhnow keeps stressing his new signee’s positional flexibility, which makes you wonder if he’ll start at third (pushing Valbuena across the diamond to first, or onto the pine) or if he’ll hop around the diamond himself, spelling different teammates depending on the day or matchup. (The Minnesota Twins’ utility infielder Eduardo Nunez turned himself into an all-star doing just that.) First, he’ll need to get his work visa in order and shake off the rust, months old at this point; most are expecting a debut around August 1. But acquiring a talent like this, in the midst of a pennant race, and without having to ship off any prospects in return? That’s a good look.
As for Bregman, ESPN’s Keith Law elevated the Albuquerque native to the top spot in his MLB prospect rankings list about 10 days ago. The second overall pick in last year's amateur draft has raised his profile considerably by boosting his power considerably. Since his promotion to AAA earlier this summer, Bregman has slugged a startling .641. (For context, only three players in all of Major League Baseball are currently slugging over .600.)
"You will find plenty of shortstops with louder tools on this list," Baseball Prospectus noted in February, "but Bregman’s floor is likely higher than all of them." Fangraphs projects about four Wins Above Replacement, per year. (Last season, Jose Altuve clocked 4.5, Correa 4.1 (in a short season), and George Springer 3.8.) ESPN’s Law, even more bullish, comps Bregman to “peak Dustin Pedroia with the bat.” All Pedroia has done in Boston is win an MVP (in 2008) and three World Series titles.
Last night against the Yankees, in his MLB debut, Bregman started at third went 0-for-4, with two strikeouts. As a youngster who was rushed to the majors fairly quickly, having played less than one full minor league season, it’ll be interesting to see how quickly he adapts to big league pitching.
Somebody get that Kevin Gates blasting in the clubhouse.