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The defending World Champion Houston Astros have few questions as they prepare for the upcoming 2023 season. But the few that remain are worth exploring in depth. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at the Astros’ infield defense in the wake of the shift rule change, the competition for the utility infielder spots, the competition for the backup catcher role, and the potential of Jake Meyers as a backup outfielder.

The Astros’ defense was a key component of their successful run in 2022. They were fourth in the league in Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), but 52% of that total was generated by the shift. With the shift rule now eliminated, it remains to be seen if the Astros can continue to generate the same level of defensive production. Will Jose Altuve adapt to traditional positioning? Will the team place more emphasis on pitcher fielding drills? Will they explore shift-type strategies in the outfield?

The utility infielder spots are also up for grabs. David Hensley and Mauricio Dubon are the frontrunners, but Ryan Bannon, J.J. Matijevic, and others will be competing for a spot. Hensley and Dubon project to be fairly close on offense, with an advantage for Hensley due to his OBP projection. However, ZIPS projects a gap in defensive skills between Dubon and Hensley.

The backup catcher role is also up for grabs. Martin Maldonado is slated to start most of the games, but Yainer Diaz and Korey Lee are competing for the backup role. ZIPS suggests that the gap in defensive skill is much smaller than the gap in offensive potential. It’s not surprising that both are rated as negatives on defense since they are rookies.

Finally, Jake Meyers has an important spring training ahead of him. He was the presumptive CF starter in the 2021 playoffs but suffered a shoulder injury. In 2022, he returned from the injury about mid-season. He was used as the backup CF but performed poorly for most of the regular season. It’s possible that he was rushed back from injury too quickly. Meyers returned to Sugarland for about a month and showed much better results. He returned to the Astros late in the 2022 season. At this point, Meyers’ offensive capability is uncertain. However, presumably, he continues to show good defensive skill and should be considered a front runner for back up outfielder.

As spring training begins, the Astros have a few questions that need to be answered. How will the shift rule change affect the team’s defense? Who will win the utility infielder and backup catcher roles? Can Jake Meyers grab a role on the team? The answers to these questions will be revealed as the season unfolds.