Around the Horn: Middle infielders

Around the Horn: Middle infielders

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

HOUSTON -- A baseball team has many working parts, and often, the dynamics between select teammates contribute heavily to a club's success. A pitcher and catcher, for example, have to work well together in order for the pitcher to do well. A pitcher has to have an enormous amount of trust in his catcher, and vice versa.

But another interesting study is the relationship between the second baseman and shortstop. They must be on the same page at all times, especially when it's time to turn a double play. This year, the middle of the Astros infield will be occupied by two newcomers, and most likely, they'll use Spring Training as a getting-to-know-you period.

Second baseman Kazuo Matsui and shortstop Miguel Tejada are virtual strangers, and clearly, there is work to do this spring. Not only do they not know each other, but they also will face language challenges -- Tejada, a native of the Dominican Republic, is fluent in Spanish and English. Japanese-born Matsui, however, is not.

"That'll be a complicating factor in the process," general manager Ed Wade said. "I imagine Kaz's interpreter will get a lot of field time out there. The communication between the two will be more of getting the repetitions and tendencies of each guy, executing double plays and how they protect themselves with the bag. That will come through repetitions they do in Spring Training."

Tejada's season may be interrupted if he has to deal with legal issues, in the wake of the House Oversight Committee asking the Department of Justice to open an investigation into whether Tejada gave false statements to members of the same committee back in 2005 about his use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Assuming Tejada will indeed be on the field with the Astros this season, the team will have three new faces taking over infield positions this year: catcher J.R. Towles, Matsui and Tejada.

Because Wade signed on to his current post with only a week remaining in the regular season, he had to rely heavily on the feedback of his staff regarding players the team was interested in bringing into the fold.

Wade's scouts were confident Matsui was one of three available free-agent second basemen who would be an upgrade over Chris Burke. Over 104 games for the Colorado Rockies in 2007, Matsui hit .288 with 24 doubles, six triples, four home runs and 37 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
His performance could be viewed as a career-saver. Matsui toiled through two and a half injury-riddled, disappointing seasons following his overhyped signing with the Mets as a shortstop in 2004. By the middle of the 2006 season, he was a member of the Colorado organization, and he spent more than two months in the Minor Leagues before making his Rockies debut, as a second baseman, in August of that year.

In Matsui, the Astros are not expecting another Craig Biggio in his prime. They wanted a sound defensive second baseman with speed who can hit in the top third of the order. Wade is confident Matsui will provide that service.

"The feedback that I've gotten back is he's an excellent second baseman with excellent range and plenty of arm," Wade said. "I don't see us having any defensive issues at all."

Matsui is projected to hit second, behind Michael Bourn and in front of Tejada. Ultimately, who hits where will be up to manager Cecil Cooper, but Wade thinks Matsui will settle in nicely in the two-hole.

"He moves the ball around, he runs pretty well, he's a patient hitter, he bunts for hits," Wade said. "He's the ideal fit for second spot in lineup, but Coop will determine that."

Of all of the changes Wade made during the offseason, he detracted from the defense only once, at the shortstop position. Smooth-fielding Adam Everett was replaced by Tejada, whose potent bat, the Astros hope, will make up for the slight hit they'll take defensively at that position.

Wade was quick to say, however, that Tejada is no slouch in the field.

"We know that Adam Everett was an exceptional shortstop," Wade said. "At the same time, I've seen Miguel play 16 to 20 times over the last two years in Baltimore, and I think his range will be average, and his arm and hands are a plus. I think he's going to be fine defensively for us. The offensive side of the game is pretty significant."

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