This is the last of a six-part Around The Horn series that will take a position-by-position look at the Astros' projected starters and backup options heading into next season. This one: the bench.
HOUSTON -- They have to be versatile and they have to be ready at a moment's notice. They have to be capable of playing every day for a couple of weeks if a teammate gets injured, while also knowing they could be riding the bench for a few days in a row, too.
Welcome to the life of being a bench player in the Major Leagues. It's a role that's underappreciated by just about everyone, with the exception of the manager.
The Astros feel good about the versatility and skill on their bench heading into the season, beginning with the return of Marwin Gonzalez. The switch-hitter played all four infield positions last year and the outfield, and proved to be a steady hand on defense while giving solid at-bats.
"Versatility is the key for the team, and that's where Marwin is such a valuable player, because he's a switch-hitter who can play almost every position," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "You want guys on the bench, when they come in, to give a break to one of the regulars. You're not giving away too much, and we're going to have that."
Gonzalez hit .279 with 12 homers -- all solo -- and 34 RBIs last year, posting single- season career highs in games (120), starts (86), hits (96), doubles (18), homers and RBIs. Gonzalez started more games than the Astros probably would have liked, and that's not a knock on him.
He took over as starting shortstop when Jed Lowrie injured his thumb in April, and wound up starting 29 games there. He started 20 games at first base because of the lack of production the Astros were getting at the position, and he also started 16 at third base and nine at second base when Jose Altuve was injured.
"He's very important, especially because he can play a lot of positions very well," manager A.J. Hinch said. "His versatility is excellent and his contribution is what got him into the lineup more often. At the beginning of the season, there was a little bit of concern as to how much playing time we were going to be able to find for him, but being it underperformance or need, we were able to get Marwin a career-high at-bats and get him a career-high performance. I think he's a valuable piece for me to be able to have."
Marisnick is a valuable weapon off the bench because of his defensive ability and his speed as a pinch-runner. Tucker, meanwhile, provides power from the left side. He had 13 homers in 300 at-bats, including a pair of home runs last year in 14 pinch-hit appearances.
Jon Singleton, Tyler White, Matt Duffy and A.J. Reed are battling for the starting job at first base, and that could also impact the rest of the bench, Hinch said. At catcher, if the Astros don't like what they see in Stassi or Heineman, they could choose to bring in someone from the outside to backup Jason Castro.
"There's a real competition at backup catcher," Hinch said.