Astros gain infield depth with Loretta

By Jim Callis
August 31, 2002

Though they fell four games behind the Cardinals in the National League Central race on Saturday, the Astros did make a move to help their postseason hopes. They picked up Mark Loretta from the Brewers for two players to be named later.

Two rookies, shortstop Adam Everett and third baseman Morgan Ensberg, were expected to man the left side of Houston’s infield this year. Both were found wanting, however, and when shortstop Julio Lugo had his left wrist broken by a pitch in mid-August, the Astros were left with veteran utilitymen Geoff Blum and Jose Vizcaino. While both are enjoying career-best seasons at the plate, Loretta is a player from the same mold and has a better offensive track record.

Loretta, 31, played all four infield positions for Milwaukee this year while hitting .267-2-19 in 86 games. He’s a contact, line-drive hitter who uses the entire field. His speed and arm strength are ordinary, yet his soft hands and accurate throws make him a viable defender anywhere in the infield. He’s making $5 million in 2002, the final year of an ill-advised, three-year deal at $11 million for the Brewers, who will pick up part of his remaining salary. Loretta, who can become a free agent after the season, has hit .289-29-272 in 796 major league games.

September 3 update: Milwaukee officially received lefthander Wayne Franklin as one of the players to be named, and sources confirm that the second player will be infielder Keith Ginter, who was designated for assignment by Houston a day earlier.

Ginter, 26, is the better prospect of the two. A 10th-round pick from Texas Tech in 1998, he won the Texas League batting title and MVP award in 2000 before leveling off in Triple-A the last two years. Playing in the Pacific Coast League’s best pitcher’s park (New Orleans’ Zephyr Field), he hit .264-12-54 in 121 games in 2002, splitting time between second and third base. He’s an offensive player, using a short stroke to hit line drives and generate occasional pop, as well as showing consistent on-base ability. But he’s also fairly stiff in the field, which has impeded him from gaining a regular big league job. Ginter is no more than an adequate defender, and he might be best suited for a utility/pinch-hitting role. He’ll get a chance to win the Brewers’ third-base job, which has been vacated by the trades of Tyler Houston and Loretta. In 13 big league games over three seasons, Ginter has three hits in 14 at-bats (.214), including a homer.

Franklin, 28, has converted from relieving to starting this year. A 1996 36th-round pick by the Dodgers from Maryland-Baltimore County, he joined the Astros via the Triple-A Rule 5 draft in December 1998. He pitched in 36 games with Houston in 2000-01, going 0-0, 5.94. His slider is his best pitch, and he also uses an upper-80s fastball and a changeup. At New Orleans this year, he went 13-9, 3.12 with a 141-59 strikeout-walk ratio in 179 innings. Franklin led the PCL in strikeouts while finishing second in victories and third in ERA.