HOUSTON (USA TODAY) - The very same day the Houston Astros chose infielder Alex Bregman No. 2 overall in the 2015 draft, they promoted shortstop Carlos Correa – the top pick three years earlier – to the majors to stay.
So Bregman wasn’t going to remain at shortstop, his position in college at LSU. He also wasn’t going to play regularly at second base, where some scouts envision him eventually winding up, because that spot is taken by former batting champion and current MVP candidate Jose Altuve.
All of which has created considerable consternation in Houston regarding the Astros’ plans for their top prospect. The worried parties, however, don’t include Bregman, who has taken to third base as if he’d learned it from Brooks Robinson.
“I’ve been loving it. I’ve had a lot of fun with it,’’ said Bregman, 22. “We shift so much anyway that half the time I’m playing at shortstop still when I’m playing third base. That helped make the transition smoother, but honestly, it doesn’t matter to me where I play.’’
That’s the kind of attitude that convinced the Astros they couldn’t pass up on Bregman, who has rewarded their trust with a quick ascent to the majors while earning USA TODAY Sports’ Minor League Player of the Year honors.
He follows in a recent pattern set by current major league stars Kris Bryant (the 2014 winner) and Xander Bogaerts (2013), who preceded left-hander Blake Snell of the Tampa Bay Rays, the 2015 winner.
Like Bregman, Bogaerts is a natural shortstop who first made his mark helping the Boston Red Sox claim the 2013 World Series as a rookie third baseman, before eventually switching back to short.
Bryant, a third baseman by trade, has emerged as a top MVP candidate for the Chicago Cubs not only through his power hitting but his versatility as well. Bryant, among the National League leaders in home runs and RBI, has played at least 35 innings at four positions – third, left field, right field and first base – and even made a brief appearance at short.
“Versatility on the field is a big part of my game,’’ said Bregman, listed as 6 feet and 180 pounds. “If I can play third base and help this team win and go to the playoffs and hopefully win in the playoffs, that would be a dream come true.’’
For now, it appears the Astros will stick with Bregman at third while Gurriel gets most of his at-bats at DH and playing left field, then they’ll formulate a longer-term plan in the offseason.
Already, they have seen signs of the maturity and intangibles Bregman exhibited as a two-time All-American and a Golden Spikes finalist at LSU.
After he put on a show with a single, double and triple at the Futures Game, Bregman continued pounding minor-league pitching, compiling 20 homers and a .986 on-base-plus-slugging percentage until the Astros called him up July 25.
Then his bat went quiet. Bregman went hitless in his first 18 at-bats, and after eight games he was 1-for-32.
Had the Astros called him up too soon? Would the slump scar him?
Mike Elias, Houston’s director of amateur scouting, said the team had no concerns he could handle it and start hitting again.
“I really think the selling factor on Alex was his makeup,’’ Elias said. “He exudes a confidence and a work ethic and a competitive focus that is special. If you watch him carefully, there’s an aura about him when he’s on the field that he’s going to win the game come hell or high water.’’
That determination was evident when Bregman requested No. 30 at LSU as a reminder that all 30 major league teams had passed on him several times in the draft when he came out of high school in Albuquerque, N.M., in 2012.
Never mind that he had missed most of his senior season with a hand fracture and had indicated his intention to go to college unless he was picked in the first round. The Boston Red Sox eventually took a flyer in the 29th round but didn’t sign him.
“He took it as kind of an affront,’’ Elias said of the snub on the first day of the draft. “He thought 30 teams had made a mistake.’’
Bregman seems to be proving it with his performance after the early slump, which he followed by batting .325 with seven homers and an .969 OPS in the next 30 games.
Bregman has shown an ability to adapt, not only switching positions but also altering his approach to try to pull pitches in the middle-to-inside part of the plate and hit them in the air, a particularly good idea at Minute Maid Park with its short fence in left field. Bregman attributes that change and a weight gain of nearly 20 pounds in the offseason to his power surge, after he hit a total of 21 homers in his three-year college career.
His knack for making adjustments should come as no surprise considering his baseball bloodlines. Bregman’s father and uncle played the game at the University of New Mexico, and his grandfather, the late Stanley Bregman, was legal counsel for the Washington Senators and was involved in hiring Ted Williams as their manager.
“My dad grew up sitting on Ted Williams’ lap in the clubhouse,’’ Bregman said. “My dad would always tell me, ‘Hey, Ted Williams was the last guy to hit .400. You have to do it next.’’’
That might be a bit ambitious, but after the rough start, Bregman is demonstrating he can be a major contributor – wherever the Astros choose to play him.
How the winner was decided
The USA TODAY Sports Minor League Player of the Year was selected through voting on a pool of finalists by USA TODAY Sports writers and editors plus readers at usatoday.com. Each staffer’s vote counted for one point. The winner of the online poll (Alex Bregman) received two points.
The vote breakdown:
3B Alex Bregman, Astros: 6 points
OF Tyler O'Neill, Mariners: 3 points
OF David Dahl, Rockies: 1 points
2B Yoan Moncada, Red Sox: 1 points
RHP Joe Musgrove, Astros: 0 points