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Around the Horn: Corner infielders

Around the Horn: Corner infielders

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The following is the second in a series of weekly stories on MLB.com examining each Major League club, position by position. Each Wednesday until Spring Training camps open, we'll preview a different position. Today: Corner infielders.

HOUSTON -- Astros general manager Ed Wade left no stone unturned this offseason, and by the time the holidays rolled around, he had made almost two dozen changes to the 40-man roster.

But while many positions will be occupied by new faces this year, the corner-infield spots remain untouched. Lance Berkman will return to his spot at first base, and Ty Wigginton will resume occupancy across the diamond at third base.

Obviously, first base was never a question. And neither was third base, except for a very fleeting moment when Wade and his lieutenants discussed possibly moving Miguel Tejada to third and keeping Adam Everett at short.

In the end, however, offense won out, and the club preferred the Tejada-Wigginton tandem to protect the left side of the infield.

Wigginton sits in stark contrast to many of the players from the 2007 club -- he was one of the few who were not groomed by the Astros organization, and he's one of the few who was left alone by a GM who was clearly given the green light to reshape the roster, no matter what it took (within economic reason, of course).

Wigginton arrived to the Astros four months into the season from Tampa Bay in a trade that sent right-hander Dan Wheeler to the Rays. While Wade did not orchestrate the deal, he said he is satisfied with Wigginton manning the hot corner and was pleased with what little he saw of the third baseman after he signed on as GM in September.

"Defensively, he's got good hands and he has a good arm," Wade said. "He has some athleticism, seeing he played a considerable amount of second base. People look at him and see a big-body guy, and they think it's a lack of athleticism. That's not the case."

Wigginton, 30, hit .284 with six home runs and 18 RBIs over 50 games after he was traded to Houston in late July. Over 148 games with the Astros and Rays, he batted .278 with 22 homers and 67 RBIs.

Houston Astros
Catchers: Towles stakes his claim
Corner IF: Veterans to anchor corners
Middle IF: Fresh faces up middle
Outfielders: Bourn's speed fills need
Starters: Oswalt leads the way
Bullpen: Hurlers set to compete
DH/Bench: One spot up for grabs
Wade will gladly take 22 home runs, especially from someone who is projected to hit seventh in the batting order.

"Twenty-two home runs last year, and in our lineup, he's not going to be hitting cleanup for us," Wade said. "Getting 22 or more home runs out of guy hitting down in the order speaks well for what he's producing. He fits very well for us. With Tejada at short and Wigginton at third, I'll put our left side against most clubs."

Wigginton has some versatility, having played 445 career games at third, 120 at second and 84 at first. But it's safe to say he won't move around the infield, especially since the Astros have Geoff Blum and Mark Loretta, both of whom can play every infield position.

Berkman ended the '07 season with decent numbers, but he suffered through a two-month slump to start the season. That partly contributed to the Astros' struggles right out of the gate.

Berkman is a career .302 hitter in the first half of the season, but last year, he hit .253 in April and .237 in May before bouncing back to hit .298 in June. His .263 pre-All Star break batting average was the lowest of his career.

But Berkman's track record suggests his first-half performance in '07 was an aberration. He is currently projected to hit in the cleanup spot in front of Carlos Lee, but ultimately, the Opening Day lineup will be determined toward the end of Spring Training.

"He's one of the best in the game," Wade said. "He's a mainstay, an All-Star, a middle-of-the-order run producer. He's a guy we're counting on to get off to a good start and lead by example for us. He's a catalyst for the club. With [Michael] Bourn, [Kazuo] Matsui and possibly Tejada hitting in front of him, I like the way the lineup looks for this year."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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