Tony Jackson of the LA Daily News today reported what seemed to be inevitable: Tony Abreu is out of the running for a backup infielder spot on the big club. Jackson reported the following quote from manager Joe Torre:
``To be honest with you, because he hasn't played in a year and a half, even if he were completely healthy, he probably would need to go play (regularly in the minors),'' Torre said. ``He hasn't done a lot of that lately.''
It's a real shame that Abreu simply hasn't been healthy enough to take advantage of many opportunities over the last couple of years.
As it stands now, the infield appears set, with starters James Loney, Orlando Hudson, Rafael Furcal, and Casey Blake joined by backup Mark Loretta, who figures to see time at every infield spot except shortstop this season. Given that Joe Torre plans to rest Rafael Furcal roughly once a week, the sixth infielder needs to be able to play shortstop.
Of the final candidates reported by Jackson, the ones with the ability to play shortstop are Juan Castro, Blake DeWitt, Chin-Lung Hu, and Hector Luna. Let's take a closer look:
Juan Castro is hitting very well this spring. However, don't be fooled. Here's what I said about Castro last month:
However, even if he lives up to his defensive reputation, Castro simply cannot hit. In the last five years, of all the players with at least 1,000 plate appearances (there are 357 of them in all), only John McDonald has produced worse than the anemic 59 OPS+ by Castro. Castro has had a plate appearance in 14 different seasons. Outside of the .400 OBP he pulled off in his 5-PA first season (1995), Castro has never had an OBP higher than .290.
Blake DeWitt seems to excel at doing things ahead of his time. He made the majors ahead of schedule, and showed improvement by the end of the year. Why not try him at shortstop? He has shown amazing range at third base, and was passable at second base, so perhaps a game at shortstop every 7-10 days isn't so bad. He's easily the best hitter of the bunch. Here's the average offensive projections for the the unfearsome foursome:
Thanks to the wonderful Fangraphs, I averaged out projections from Bill James, CHONE, Marcel, Oliver, and Zips, except for Luna for which there were no Bill James projections. The best point for DeWitt not winning the utility infielder spot is that he might benefit more from playing every day in Albuquerque.
Chin-Lung Hu is probably the best defender of the four players in question, but his vision problems last year really put a damper on his status. If the backup spot was more defensive-oriented -- someone to come in during the late innings but rarely start, Hu might be the best choice. I'd like to see Hu show he can hit again before I put him on the roster. Between Hu and DeWitt, I'd rather have DeWitt, but I'd take Hu over either Castro or Luna.
Hector Luna managed only one plate appearance in 2008. Coming up with the Cardinals, Luna could hit a little, putting up a .276/.336/.398, 90 OPS+ from 2006-2008 with the Redbirds. Since being traded to Cleveland in 2006, Luna has plummeted to .253/.287/.359, 67 OPS+ in the majors. Defensively, Luna leaves a lot to be desired. Here are his career UZR/150, again courtesy of Fangraphs:
To me, it's not worth making a roster move to add Castro or Luna, neither of whom is currently on the full 40-man roster. My choice for the sixth infielder spot is Blake DeWitt. Who's your pick?