Astros sign Kata to Minors deal

Astros sign Kata to Minors deal

HOUSTON -- The Astros are in need of a utility infielder who can play shortstop to spell Miguel Tejada in 2009, and Matt Kata will have a chance to show he can handle the job.

The 30-year-old Kata signed a Minor League contract with the Astros on Friday and received an invitation to Major League Spring Training. He'll compete for a final spot on the roster with several players currently in the Astros' Minor League system, including Tommy Manzella, Edwin Maysonet and Drew Sutton. It's possible the Astros will add more candidates before pitchers and catchers report to camp in Kissimmee, Fla., on Feb. 14.

Kata has played in parts of four big league seasons, compiling a .242 batting average with the D-backs (2003-05), Phillies (2005), Rangers (2007) and Pirates (2007).

Most recently, Kata, Arizona's ninth-round pick in 1999, hit .245 with 18 doubles, six triples, eight home runs, 18 stolen bases and 45 RBIs in 118 games for the Indianapolis Indians, the Pirates' Triple-A affiliate.

Over 238 Major League games, Kata has made 112 appearances at second base, 43 at third, 17 at short and 14 in the outfield. His versatility could allow for him to spell not only Tejada at short, but also the injury-prone Kazuo Matsui at second.

"He's played everywhere," said Ricky Bennett, Astros assistant general manager in charge of player development. "He has Major League experience. We're looking for depth at [Triple-A] Round Rock and for guys who can compete for the 25th spot on the roster. We've talked about him the last couple of years. We were finally able to get a deal done and bring him on board."

Creating depth and competition for positions is always a priority as a team inches closer to the beginning of the spring season, but Manzella, the club's third-round pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, will head to camp hoping to sway the decision-making process in his favor. Manzella, a slick-fielding shortstop who has drawn comparisons to former Astro Adam Everett, will try out for a spot on this year's team, but he'll also be auditioning to take over when Tejada's contract expires after '09.

Hot Stove
"When we added him to the [40-man] roster [in November], I said, 'This is your opportunity,'" Bennett said. "Show the Major League staff that you're ready to compete. He might make the decision for us."

Manzella, who will turn 26 in April, hit .299 for Double-A Corpus Christi last year before receiving a midseason promotion to Round Rock, where he hit .219 over 61 games.

Defensively, officials feel he's ready for the big leagues, but Manzella still has work to do offensively.

"We would still like for his bat to continue to make progress," Bennett said. "I personally don't like seeing young prospects come up and sit on the bench. It's more important for him to play every day. He's not quite ready for the Major League level from an offensive standpoint."

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