Defense to weigh heavily in Astros' 1B battle

Hinch pleased with play of four competitors in the field

Defense to weigh heavily in Astros' 1B battle

JUPITER, Fla. -- Whoever wins the job as the Astros' starting first baseman won't necessarily be the player who ends the spring with the best stat line. Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Saturday that more will go into the decision, adding that defense will carry a lot of weight.

The starting first-base job is the only everyday position open in camp, with Jon Singleton, A.J. Reed, Tyler White and Matt Duffy vying for it. Each brings something a little different to the table, and it's clear they need to take advantage of their playing time this spring.

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"It's nice to get the results, but there's a process in how they're going about it -- the swing mechanics, the defensive footwork, some of the intricacies of the positon that we're paying attention to," Hinch said. "The guy with the highest batting average isn't going to necessarily win the job. It's a more thorough evaluation than that."

Hinch said he's been impressed with White's mobility, considering he came with more accolades as a hitter than a defender. He said the burly Reed moves very well, not only for a big guy, but also for a first baseman.The manager said they're trying to get an extra step out of Singleton's footwork.

Duffy's diving catch

"Our defense over there has been fine," he said. "There has been no drops, they've picked a few balls and no balls have really gotten through. Those are all important. Reed and White have both played defensively a touch better than advertised."

Hinch said starting third baseman Luis Valbuena and super utility player Marwin Gonzalez will soon get some at-bats at first, which could cut into the playing time of the four vying for the starting spot.

"We're 10 or 15 or 20 at-bats in for some of these guys in the competition," Hinch said. "The dial gets turned up a little bit more, the competition gets a little bit more fierce. We still aren't drawing any conclusions based on how early we are in spring, but there becomes a little bit more stress on playing deeper in games, getting three or four at-bats as opposed to two or three.

"Ultimately, I'd like somebody to take the job. That doesn't have to happen until we break camp. The competition is going to be very thorough and the attention as it gets closer to the end of camp is going to be magnified a little bit, and it generally starts at the end of the month."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.