Yuli Gurriel goes down; who’s up?

It looks like Yuli Gurriel’s hand injury is fairly serious, based on an Instagram post this morning, showing him laid up in a hospital bed. Surgery seems to be on the near horizon.

It’s funny to think that a lineup losing a guy who posted a 118 wRC+ and knocked 18 long balls won’t be missing too much, but the Astros are just that stacked. Still, it’s a small blow, and even with the bulk of Spring Training left, it seems safe to assume that Gurriel will miss at least the first month of the regular season, if not more.

The Astros have options, though. If anything, there was something of a logjam at first base prior to this. Gurriel simply performed too consistently well, if unspectacularly, to see his playing time reduced. That left a number of guys on the outside looking in.

A.J. Reed is chief among them. The (very recent) former top prospect didn’t make the kind of progress at Triple-A last season that one might hope for after falling on his face during his shot at the Majors in 2016. However, his splits give hope, as he finished his 2017 Minor League campaign by posting OPS totals of over 1.000 in both July and August.

Reed clearly has the highest ceiling, and there’s likely not much more he can learn in the minors. As Colin Moran’s shot with Houston was scuttled by injuring his face with a foul ball showed, the Astros are simply too good and too deep to afford many opportunities to all but the most elite prospects. This could be an opening for Reed, but it could be his last one with this organization.

One potential roadblock that remains is Marwin Gonzalez. After a stunning breakout year at the plate, Gonzalez manned left field for the Astros during their playoff run, and continued to provide some clutch hits (and outfield throws). There’s little doubt Gonzalez will receive a fair number of starts at first base during Gurriel’s absence. It will be up to Reed to perform well enough in Spring Training that A.J. Hinch and the Astros want to find ways to work him into the lineup. Marwin will get starts in left field, and will continue to occasionally spell Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and Alex Bregman at the other infield spots. Reed could also see opportunities at DH, especially against tough right-handed pitchers that Hinch may not want Evan Gattis to face.

Beyond Reed is Tyler White, another talented hitter blocked in a loaded organization. Though his upside isn’t as high, he actually showed his potential in the Majors, posting a 126 wRC+ in 22 games during the 2017 season. He’s another right-handed bat though, so he’ll have to out-perform Reed in a clear way to have a real shot at significant playing time.

Also in the mix will be J.D. Davis. His hitting skills aren’t as polished as Reed or White, but he wields thunderous power in his bat, and is the most well-rounded player of the three, able to play first base, third base, and possibly outfield, not to mention throwing a low-90’s heater in mop-up relief roles. He’s looked good so far this Spring, and that versatility could give him an edge if he’s hitting well.