KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- One year after beginning the season as the Astros' starting left fielder, J.D. Martinez was optioned to Triple-A Oklahoma City on Sunday when it became apparent to the team he wasn't going to beat out Fernando Martinez, Rick Ankiel or Brandon Barnes.
Martinez hit .298 with one homer and four RBIs this spring, but the club has settled on Chris Carter starting in left field and Justin Maxwell in center, and is leaning toward Ankiel in right. The Astros would rather see Martinez play every day than come off the bench, and he'll get that chance in Oklahoma City.
"We see J.D. as an everyday outfielder, and when you switch to the American League, it's hard to get our fourth or fifth outfielders a lot of playing time because the fact you're not doing as many double switches," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "He's going to play a lot, and right now we couldn't guarantee him that amount of playing time at the big league level given that we're going to the American League and given that Fernando Martinez and Brandon Barnes and Maxwell and Ankiel have all played very, very well."
Martinez, 25, burst onto the scene midway through the 2011 season, getting promoted from Double-A and taking over Hunter Pence's slot in the lineup when he was traded to Philadelphia. He hit .241 with 11 homers and a team-leading 55 RBIs last year in Houston and also played 23 games at Oklahoma City -- his only Triple-A experience.
Final two outfield spots down to three players
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Astros' outfield situation was cleared up significantly with Sunday's roster move that sent J.D. Martinez to Triple-A Oklahoma City.
With the club heading toward a starting lineup of Chris Carter in left, Justin Maxwell in center and Rick Ankiel in right, the final two roster spots in the outfield are going to come down to Fernando Martinez, Brandon Barnes and Trevor Crowe, a non-roster player.
"I don't think we have too many more decisions to make," manager Bo Porter said. "The last decision or so will come down to the next couple of days here, and we'll be almost set and ready to go."
Martinez is a left-handed bat with tremendous power, but he doesn't run very well. Barnes, who hits right-handed, can play all three outfield spots and is a plus defender who can run. Crowe's a versatile switch-hitter who has some speed.
"All those guys have done a tremendous job this spring and they've made this decision a tough one as you come down the stretch," Porter said.
The manager wants offense early and defense late, which what makes Barnes so valuable. Regardless of who makes the roster, expect there to plenty of mixing and matching in the outfield.
"We'll continue to give everybody some playing time and see what happens," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "I can't imagine we'd run the same three guys out there every day to start the season. We'll give everybody an opportunity to play."
Astros have veterans to complement youth
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- For all the talk about how young the Astros are going to be this year, two of their starters -- right fielder Rick Ankiel, designated hitter/first baseman Carlos Pena -- are 30 years old or older, as is Ronny Cedeno, who'll platoon at shortstop, as well as starting pitcher Erik Bedard and closer Jose Veras.
Manager Bo Porter said it's important to have veteran players in a young clubhouse to provide leadership despite the team's commitment to youth.
"When you have players that haven't played for long periods of time in the Major Leagues, when you can surround them with players that can be mentors, it's good," he said. "A lot of times, from a staff standpoint, there are things that never make it to you because you have better guys who have been through the trenches and they're able to share information with the guys, whether it's sitting on the bench or sitting in the clubhouse or sitting on the airplane or the taxi to the ballpark together."
Porter was a coach with the Nationals the last two years and worked with Ankiel, and he became well-versed about Cedeno's game in preparation for interviewing for a job with the Pirates a few years ago.
"A lot of the veterans that are here, if you look around, I have some kind of history with them," he said. "They're here for a reason. Again, you want to not only have veteran guys, you want to have the right veteran guys."