The Astros wake up this morning 11 games below .500 and two touchdowns behind first place St. Louis. If you are an Astro fan, not exactly what you had in mind on opening day. One reason for hope (beyond 2005) is the play of Willy Taveras. The batting champion at AA Round Rock in ’04 is more than holding his own at the big league level. He is hitting .288 and his 17 stolen bases as of this writing are good for third in the NL. I’m not sure what the modern record for infield hits is, but Willy has 27 already and if he maintains that pace he would have to be in the ballpark. Infield hits obviously don’t have any more value than any other single.As a matter of fact, I’ve never seen anyone go first to third on a base hit to short. What all those infield hits indicates is that you have a player who should be able to hit for a decent average and contribute even when he may not be swinging the bat all that well. The old adage "speed never slumps" certainly applies to Taveras. To say that he is fast is like saying Michael Jackson is a little different. He is a good bunter and getting better. Because of his speed, there is almost no such thing as a routine ground out for him. Third basemen have to shorten up on him and if he learns to pull the ball the doubles will follow. I also believe he will develop into more than a singles hitter. He is a strong kid who should be able to split some gaps and that is when the real fun will start for him.
Perhaps the final piece of the Taveras package would be the ability to switch hit. He worked on it some last year at AA, but abandoned the idea this spring (at least temporarily) as he focused on trying to make the team. With an eye toward the future, maybe now is the time for Taveras to start working on it in BP and perhaps during winter ball. Even if he never mastered the left side, he could get a number of hits by just slapping the ball to the short-stop side and relying on his speed, which would obviously be more valuable from the left-handed box.