The Houston Astros will be without second baseman Jose Altuve for the start of the 2023 MLB season after he suffered a fractured thumb on Saturday as part of Venezuela’s loss to Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. Altuve, who will undergo surgery in the coming days to mend his digit, experienced the injury when he was hit in the hand by a pitch from Daniel Bard.
The Astros did not announce a timetable for Altuve’s return. Baseball Prospectus’ injury database indicates that the average recovery time from a broken thumb for a hitter is 34 days missed, or about five weeks. Of course, recoveries can vary based on any number of factors, including severity and the team’s situation. The Astros will want to ensure that Altuve is hearty and hale upon his return, suggesting they may take a more conservative approach.
With Altuve potentially sidelined until May at the earliest, the Astros now face the unenviable task of replacing his production atop their lineup. Last season, he batted .300/.387/.533 (160 OPS+) with 28 home runs in 141 games. His contributions were estimated to be worth 5.1 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball Reference. In turn, he recorded his highest finish in American League Most Valuable Player Award voting (fifth) since his 2017 win.
What options does Astros general manager Dana Brown have? Below we’ve highlighted some realistic candidates, internally and otherwise.
1. The internal choices
The likeliest, and most straightforward route for Brown and the Astros is to hand the keystone over to a player or two already in the organization. The top candidates are David Hensley and Mauricio Dubón.
Hensley, listed at an unusually tall 6-foot-6 for a middle infielder, made his big-league debut last season. In 16 games, he batted .345/.441/.586. He’s shown a strong eye at the plate, as well as a capable line-drive stroke. Hensley isn’t young in a conventional sense — he’ll celebrate his 27th birthday just ahead of Opening Day, but his lack of service time makes him a potential long-term piece of the roster if he proves that his contact-driven ways can transfer against MLB-quality pitching. There’s league-average upside here.
Dubón, 28, has bounced around both the league and the diamond. He joined Houston last May as part of a small trade with the San Francisco Giants, and he spent most of his time with the Astros in center field. Dubón has shown little…
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