Here is a look at two rookies manning infield spots this year for the Astros: Chris Johnson and Tommy Manzella.
First, the book comments (NOTE: we are sold out of hard copies, but you can still order .pdfs of the 2010 Baseball Prospect Book at www.johnsickels.net).
Chris Johnson has some pop in his bat, but his unimpressive strike zone judgment holds his offense back. His OPS was just +3 percent in the Pacific Coast League last year, and he looked overmatched in his major league time, granted a 22 at-bat sample is tiny. On the positive side, he's a solid defender at third base, with decent range and a very strong throwing arm. I think Johnson can hit .250 with 15 homers as season in the majors, but his OBP would be below average and his overall production would be substandard for a corner player. Unless his plate discipline takes a huge leap forward, I think he's destined to bounce between Triple-A and the major league bench jobs. Grade C.
Johnson was seeing some platoon action but is currently on the disabled list with a strained intercostal muscle. The early numbers weren't much: 5-for-22 (.227) with two RBI and a triple, too small to mean anything. My analysis of his future remains the same: he can be a role player/Quadruple-A guy, but I don't see him as a future regular in the majors unless his bat takes a huge leap forward. He was originally drafted in the fourth round out of Stetson in 2006.
Now, to Tommy Manzella:
A steady and reliable defensive shortstop, Tommy Manzella probably won't hit enough to hold a regular job long-term, but he does all the little things well and should hold a reserve spot for several years. He'll show some occasional pop with the bat, more than some utility guys, and he's fast enough to steal a few bases. His plate discipline is mediocre and holds back his hitting to some extent. He has slightly above average range, a good throwing arm, and doesn't make many errors. Worse players have had long careers, and he doesn't have anything left to prove in Triple-A. Grade C.
Manzella is 11-for-48 (.229) with a double, one run, and three RBI so far, with zero walks and 11 strikeouts. He's capable of better than that; I think he can hit .250/.310/.375 or so, which isn't great but is better than currently. His defense drew good reviews in the minors, particularly for range and arm strength, though so far he hasn't been spectacular, granted it is just too soon to tell given the sample sizes involved. My opinion about him hasn't really changed either: if they are patient with him, his bat should improve somewhat, and his glove should be valuable up the middle even if he doesn't win awards. He was a third round pick out of Tulane in 2005.
Five years from now, I expect Manzella will still be on a major league roster somewhere at least as a utility infielder. Johnson I'm not sure about; I doubt he'll hit enough to stick on the roster most of the time, given that his lack of range limits him to a corner where more hitting is necessary than he looks to provide. He'll probably carve out a long career in Triple-A.