In the comments section of Monday's Minor League Update at baseball prospectus, I was asked the following question:
"From the fall/winter leagues, it would seem that [Japhet] Amador is playing his way into the conversation for the opening day lineup while [Jonathan] Singleton is not. Come April, which one makes the opening day roster, if any?"
I answered the question in the comments section, but I wanted to expand on it further here because it requires some explanation.
Singleton is the better prospect, without a doubt. In fact, Amador, who will be 27 before next season begins, shouldn't even be considered a prospect, despite having played in the Arizona Fall League and having yet to make his major league debut. He's a veteran of the Mexican League and is simply too old to have any development left in his game. At this point, he is what he is.
The Astros, however, still don't know exactly what that is. Amador has dominated the Mexican League for the last five years, but scouts are split on how that production will translate to the major leagues. Outside of the AFL, Amador has just 43 plate appearances stateside. This fall, he hit .284/.286/.507.
Singleton, on the other hand, is still playing this winter in Puerto Rico and is hitting .275/.420/.500 thus far. He's the Astros first baseman of the future, but that future is not yet ready to become the present.
Singleton missed the first portion of the season while serving his suspension for substance abuse, and when he returned, he was out of shape and unproductive. Coming off of a season in which he had an .893 OPS in Double-A, he posted just a .687 OPS in Triple-A. He's still very much the prospect he was before (keeping his plate discipline relatively in tact during his struggles helped), but he needs to show he can hit Triple-A pitching before he joins the Astros major league roster. Additionally, the team doesn't want to reward the behavior that got SIngleton suspended with an unwarranted promotion and the team isn't ready to compete in 2014, giving them little reason to waste his service time in April and May.
There's no reason to rush the 22-year-old Singleton to the majors with Amador already around to keep his seat warm for him. The Astros want to see what they have in Amador before Singleton is ready to take over at first base to see if they want to play them side-by-side at first base and DH.
The first base job is Singleton's to lose in the Astros long-term plan, but that plan doesn't start this April. A lot can chance between now and then with free agency, trades, etc., but with only Brett Wallace in the way, there's little reason not to see what Amador can do. It may only take Singleton a few months more of Triple-A to work his way into the Astros lineup as well, but for this spring, if it comes down to the two rookies, Amador is more likely to get the nod.