03/05/11 2:02 PM ET
Manzella working to prove himself with Astros
By Brian McTaggart / MLB.com
His first thought was that he had plenty to prove.
For the first time in his life, Manzella would go to Spring Training unsure of what his role would be and how -- even if -- he would fit into the picture. Barmes would start at shortstop, and Bill Hall was brought in to start at second. And Manzella? He was suddenly fighting for a job.
2010 Spring Training - Houston Astros
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Spring Training Info
"Everybody wants to be the starter, everybody wants to be out there playing every day," Manzella said. "Sometimes your performance is going to dictate that, and last year you could say things didn't go my way."
A year ago, Manzella went to spring camp entrenched as the starter at the position and was slowed by a quadriceps injury. A third-round Draft pick out of Tulane in 2005, he was a Major League-ready defensive player from the get-go and steadily improved offensively as he rose step-by-step through the Minor Leagues.
Manzella wound up hitting .225 with one homer and 21 RBIs in 258 at-bats in his rookie season with the Astros, struggling at the plate early in the year before missing two months when he broke his left index finger diving for a ball. When he returned, he was splitting time with Angel Sanchez.
"There's no sugarcoating the struggles he had last year, whether from the standpoint of performance early or the injury," general manager Ed Wade said of Manzella. "It was a tough season for him to go through, and to his credit, I've seen somebody who is coming here and letting all that wash over him and is being aggressive and trying to put his best foot forward to make the case that he's going to make this club."
During the offseason, needing desperately to upgrade its offense and committed to its outfield alignment -- as well as to youngsters Chris Johnson at third, Brett Wallace at first and Jason Castro behind the plate -- the club determined that the only place to add offense was at second base and shortstop.
Manzella understood the Astros' reasoning, even if he didn't necessarily like it.
"It's not to say I agree with everything they do, but as a player you think you're the best option at the position, even though last year didn't go statistically as I wanted," Manzella said. "It wasn't good enough for me to establish myself, entrench myself as the starter, so you knew there's a possibility they're going to go out and get somebody else."
Manzella now finds himself taking ground balls at third base and second base this spring, as well as at shortstop. He's trying to make the club as one of two backup infielders and understands the importance of versatility in that role.
"From a utility standpoint, we're open-minded who's going to fill those roles," Wade said. "Tommy's done great in the drills and in game action, and defensively he's a very good athlete. He made some offensive adjustments; he's come up off the end of the bat. He's healthy and showing a lot of energy out there. He's knee-deep in the competition."
But to win the job, Manzella knows, he needs to hit.
The good news is that it's traditionally taken him about 200 at-bats to get comfortable at the plate at each level he's played in the pros, and he's buoyed by the fact that he hit .261 in 69 at-bats when he returned from his finger injury. He's also tinkered with his stance with hitting coach Mike Barnett and is now more upright in the box.
"Now I can just concentrate on doing what I have to do to succeed at this level," Manzella said. "That's another great thing about bouncing around by position -- I can play second, third and shortstop and get at-bats. The more at-bats I get in the spring, the better it's going to be for me to keep getting adjustments and show them I've made the proper adjustments offensively."
Manzella prides himself on his work ethic. He says it gives him a mental edge knowing he's working harder than the next guy. He's working harder to win a spot on the team and making sure he's ready when his next opportunity as a starter arises.
"Basically, if you know inside that you're good enough to play every day, all you want to do is work and show others you can do that," he said. "I just have to do whatever I can to get on the field, and when I get on the field, show people I can play every day at this level. At the big league level, the only thing that separates you from the others is results and proving what you can do on the field."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.