This is the second article in a series that looks at the five best players at each position for the Houston Astros. In this installment are first and third basemen and designated hitters.
The Houston Astros corner infielder and designated hitter list includes a good mix of some of the best hitters of yesteryear and the top run producers of the modern team, which has won two championships in the past seven years.
The Best First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters in Houston Astros History
Honorable Mentions – Daniel “Rusty” Staub played six seasons with the Astros (1963-68), three each at first base and in right field. He was an All-Star at first base in his final season with the club, posting a .291 average, 172 hits and 72 RBIs.
Lee May spent three seasons in Houston (1972-74), earning an All-Star selection in his first year after batting .284 with 29 home runs and 98 runs batted in. He followed that up with two more 20-homer seasons and drove in 105 runs in 1973, and he is one of just 11 players in Major League history to have 100 RBIs with three teams. “Big Bopper” passed away in 2017 at age 74.
Ray Knight spent three seasons in the early 1980s with Houston (1982-84), making the All-Star team in his first season after hitting .295 with 70 RBIs and a career-high 179 hits. He was traded to the Mets and two years later, helped New York beat his old team in the NLCS, then was named World Series MVP after his new team beat the Red Sox.
5. Bob Watson – He spent 14 of his 19 seasons with the Astros (1966-79), splitting time between left field and first base while Staub and May were in Houston before moving to the infield spot full-time in 1975. Watson played 731 games at first base to 649, and he hit better than .300 four times. He also earned a unique accolade by scoring the one millionth run in Major League history in 1976.
“Bull” had arguably his three best seasons at first base, with an All-Star selection in 1975 followed by the only two 100-RBI campaigns of his long career. He is tied for fourth in franchise history with a .297 average, ranks fifth in runs batted in (782), seventh in hits (1,448) and doubles (241), eighth in total bases (2,166), ninth in games (1,381) and runs (640) and tenth in home runs (139).
Watson also played for the Red Sox, Yankees and Braves before retiring in 1984. The Astros made him the first African American general manager in 1993 and he left after two years for the same position with the Yankees, and he helped construct the dynasty of the late 1990s. He passed away in 2020 at age 74 from kidney failure.
4. Glenn Davis – He took over for Knight and spent seven seasons in Houston (1984-90). Davis was an All-Star, a silver slugger and finished second in the MVP voting in 1986 after batting .265 with 91 runs, 31 homers and 101 runs batted in. He had seven hits, three runs, a homer and three RBIs in the NLCS loss to the Mets that year.
During his time with the Astros, Davis was a two-time All-Star, hit 20 or more home runs six times and drove in at least 80 runs four times. He ranks seventh in team history with 166 home runs, and he also had 427 runs, 795 hits, 150 doubles and 518 RBIs in 830 games.
3. Yulieski Gurriel – He played with the Astros for seven seasons (2016-22) and was a part of two championship teams. He posted a .298-31-104 stat line in 2019, but his best season was 2021, when he was the A. L. batting champion with a .319 average and won a gold glove.
“La Piña” (“the pineapple”) batted .284 with 400 runs, 866 hits, 206 doubles, 94 home runs, 435 RBIs and 1,364 total bases in 810 games with the Astros. He added 31 runs, 87 hits, 14 doubles, eight homers and 39 RBIs in 85 playoff contents, and he drove in 12 runs in Houston’s four World Series appearances. Gurriel signed with the Marlins in 2023.
2. Lance Berkman – There are several versatile first basemen on this list, but Berkman is by far the best. The switch-hitting “Killer B” also spent a good amount of time in both left and right field, but his move to first after Bagwell retired allowed the team to continue with a premium power hitter at a position at which it is essential to have one.
Berkman spent his final six seasons in Houston at first base, hitting at least 20 home runs five straight years, driving in 100 runs three times and leading the league with 46 doubles in 2008. His best power season at the position was 2006, when he hit .315, with a team record 136 runs batted in and 45 home runs, which ranks second in team history.
Berkman is the all-time team leader with a .410 on-base percentage, and he ranks second in franchise history in home runs (326), third in RBIs (1,090), fourth in runs (1,008), doubles (375) and total bases (3,053), fifth in games (1,592) and sixth in hits (1,648) and average (.296) over 12 seasons with the Astros (1999-2010). He was a five-time All-Star, finished in the top five of the MVP voting four times and won the fielding title in 2008.
“Big Puma” had 18 runs, 31 hits, eight doubles, six home runs and 26 RBIs in 29 playoff games with Houston. He hit three homers and drove in nine runs in the 2004 NLCS loss to the Cardinals and had five hits and six RBIs in the 2005 World Series against the White Sox.
1. Jeff Bagwell – He came to the Astros from the Red Sox in what turned out to be one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history (for relief pitcher Larry Andersen). After his arrival, the team made it to the playoffs six times in nine seasons from 1997-2005 after making only three postseason appearance in the previous 35 years.
Even with players like McGwire, Sosa, Bonds and Piazza starring in the National League during his best years, Bagwell was one of the most feared power hitters of his time. He had nine seasons with at least 30 home runs, eight with more than 100 RBIs (and three of at least 130), and he reached both milestones in six straight campaigns from 1996-2001.
Bagwell was named Rookie of the Year in 1991, when he hit .294 with 15 home runs and 82 runs batted in. Three years later, he took home his only MVP Award, along with a gold glove, a silver slugger and his first of four All-Star selections after posting franchise records with a .368 average and a .750 slugging percentage as well as 39 home runs and league-leading totals of 104 runs, 116 RBIs and 300 total bases.
In 1999, Bagwell was the MVP runner-up after leading the league with 143 runs and 149 walks to go with a .304 average, 42 home runs, 126 RBIs and 30 stolen bases and a franchise record .454 on-base percentage. He also topped the N. L. with 48 doubles in 1996 and his 2000 seasons includes team records with 152 runs scored, 47 home runs and 363 total bases. Over his 15-year career (1991-2005), he finished in the top 10 of MVP voting six times and won three silver sluggers.
The leader of the “Killer B’s” is also the franchise leader in home runs (449), runs batted in (1,529) and walks (1,401), ranks second in games (2,150), runs (1,517), hits (2,314), doubles (488) and total bases (4,213), fourth in average (.297) and seventh in stolen bases (202). In 33 career postseason games, Bagwell had 11 runs, 24 hits, two home runs and 13 runs batted in. he went 1-for-8 in the 2005 World Series, which turned out to be his final Major League action due to recurring shoulder issues.
Bagwell officially retired the following year but worked for the next few seasons as a coach and instructor with the Astros. His “guilt by association” with other known steroid users (such as former teammate Ken Caminiti) kept him out of the Hall of Fame until 2017, when he was finally elected in his seventh year on the ballot.
Honorable Mentions – Phil Garner called third base in Houston home for seven seasons (1981-87), totaling 337 runs, 659 hits, 49 home runs and 320 RBIs in 753 games. “Scrap Iron” earned his nickname by being a hard-nosed player who won a title with the Pirates in 1979. Three years later, he had his best season with the Astros, batting .274 with career-high totals of 161 hits and 83 runs batted in. Garner had four hits, two runs scored and two RBIs in eight playoff games with Houston. After his 16-year playing career ended, he amassed a 985-1,054 record in 15 seasons as a manager with the Brewers, Tigers and Astros.
Denny Walling platooned with Knight and Garner before taking over at third base during a 13-year run with Houston (1977-88 and ’92). His best season was 1986, when he hit .312 and set career highs with 13 home runs and 58 runs batted in. Overall, Walling batted .277 with 351 runs, 726 hits, 47 homers and 345 RBIs in 1,072 games with the Astros. He also had three runs, six hits and five RBIs in 11 career postseason games.
Morgan Ensberg started on the opposite side of the infield from Bagwell during the team’s success in the early part of the 2000s. After a brief call-up, he finally reached the big leagues for good in 2002 and spent a total of seven seasons in Houston (2000 and 02-07). His best season was 2005, when he batted .283 and set career highs with 86 runs, 149 hits, 30 doubles, 36 home runs and 100 runs batted in.
Overall, Ensberg batted .266 with 323 runs, 551 hits, 105 homers and 335 RBIs in 673 games. He added 22 hits, nine runs, five doubles, two home runs and 18 RBIs in 26 career playoff games, including seven runs batted in during the 2005 Division Series.
Ensberg faced some scary moments during and after his baseball career. While he was still in the minor leagues in 2000, he and several teammates were held at gunpoint in his room. Years later, long after his time as a player had ended, Ensberg was the Manager of the Montgomery (Ala.) Biscuits, the Double-A affiliate of the Rays when a 2019 triple homicide in southern Virginia included the wife of one of the pitchers on the team.
5. Bob Aspromonte – The team’s original starter spent seven seasons with Houston (1962-68), totaling 336 runs, 925 hits, 51 home runs and 385 RBIs in 1,007 games. The two-time fielding champion had his best season at the plate in 1964, when he hit .280 and set career highs with 155 hits, 12 homers and 69 runs batted in.
4. Enos Cabell – After three years with Baltimore, he got his chance to start in Houston, which he did over eight seasons in two stints (1975-80 and 84-85). Cabell had career highs with 101 runs, 16 home runs and 42 stolen bases in 1977 and followed that with a season that included a .295 average, 92 runs and 33 steals as well as career highs with 195 hits and 71 runs batted in.
Cabell ranks eighth in franchise history with 45 triples and is tied for ninth with 191 stolen bases along with a .281 average, 522 runs, 1,124 hits, 175 doubles, 45 home runs and 405 RBIs in 1,067 games. “Big E” had five hits and a run scored in the 1980 NLCS.
3. Doug Rader – He was more of the typical run-producing third basemen during his nine seasons with the Astros (1967-75), hitting at least 20 home runs three times and driving in more than 80 runs in four seasons. He also won five straight gold gloves from 1970-74.
The “Red Rooster” ranks ninth in franchise history with 600 runs batted in and he also has 520 runs, 1,060 hits, 197 doubles and 128 home runs in 1,178 games. He spent time with the Padres and the expansion Blue Jays before retiring in 1977.
2. Ken Caminiti – He was drafted out of San Jose State in 1984 and was one of the final players cut from the U. S. Olympic Team that year. Caminiti was a solid contributor during his 10 seasons with the Astros (1987-94 and 99-2000). He reached double digits in home runs seven times, including 1994, when he hit .283 with 18 homers and 75 RBIs and earned his only All-Star selection while with Houston.
Caminiti had his greatest years with the Padres, winning the MVP Award in 1996 to go with two All-Star selections, three gold gloves and a silver slugger. He spent four seasons with San Diego, came back to Houston for two more and spent his final lackluster season split between Texas and Atlanta.
His post-playing days included an interview in which he detailed the widespread use of steroids in Major League Baseball, including his own use during his MVP season as well as multiple arrests for drug possession. Just five days after being released from jail in Houston in October 2004, he traveled to New York and died after using cocaine and heroin at a friend’s apartment.
1. Alex Bregman – He was a major part of the youth movement that rejuvenated the franchise over the past decade. During his eight seasons with Houston (2016-present), Bregman has a pair of All-Star selections, was the MVP of the 2018 Midsummer Classic, hit 20 or more home runs four times and drove in at least 100 runs twice (and he has 96 entering the final week of the 2023 season).
In 2018, Bregman led the league with 51 doubles to go along with 31 home runs and 103 runs batted in. The following year, he finished second in the MVP voting and earned his only silver slugger to date after setting career highs with a .296 average, 122 runs scored, 41 homers, 112 RBIs and a league-leading 119 walks.
Bregman ranks eighth in franchise history in doubles (234), home runs (164) and RBIs (586) and he sits tenth in total bases (1,730). He also has a .274 average, 611 runs and 974 hits, in 960 games. Bregman has appeared in the postseason in all but his rookie year, totaling 53 runs, 76 hits, 16 doubles, 15 homers and 47 RBIs in 86 playoff games. Over Houston’s four World Series appearances, he has 14 runs, 20 hits, six home runs and 19 RBIs in 26 games.
2. Evan Gattis – In addition to being a full-time hitter, he played some catcher and left field, both with the Braves and during his four seasons with the Astros (2015-18). Gattis was a pure power hitter, going over the 25-home run mark three times while batting just .245 and striking out 397 times with Houston.
“Bull” had 214 runs, 422 hits, 96 homers and 293 RBIs in 493 games. He appeared in 23 playoff games with the Astros, totaling six runs, 12 hits, one home run and four runs batted in. During the 2017 World Series, Gattis hit .300 (3-for-10) with a run scored, but it was later revealed that he was one of the prominent players in the sign-stealing scandal.
1. Yordan Alvarez – He is one of the bright young stars of the current team, earning All-Star selections in each of the past two years. Alvarez earned the Rookie of the Year Award in 2019 with a .313 average, 27 home runs and 78 runs batted in despite playing in just 87 games. He missed all but two games COVID-shortened 2020 season after suffering a partial tear of the patellar tendon in his right knee that required surgery.
With one more home run in 2023, Alvarez will reach 30 for the third straight season after the injury. He earned his first of two All-Star selections, his only silver slugger to date and finished third in the MVP race in 2022 after hitting .306 with 95 runs, 37 home runs and 97 RBIs.
“Air Yordan” is the current franchise leader with a .588 slugging percentage and he ranks seventh in team history with a .296 average to go with 320 runs, 507 hits, 113 doubles, 127 home runs and 378 RBIs in 476 games. Alvarez has 27 runs 41 hits, 10 doubles, six home runs and 26 RBIs in 47 career postseason games. He was the MVP of the 2021 ALCS after batting .522 (12-for-23) with seven runs scored, a homer and six runs batted in.
Houston Astros Catchers and Managers
Houston Astros First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Houston Astros Second Basemen and Shortstops – coming soon
Houston Astros Outfielders – coming soon
Houston Astros Pitchers – coming soon
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A look back at the Cleveland Guardians
Cleveland Guardians Catchers and Managers
Cleveland Guardians First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Cleveland Guardians Second Basemen and Shortstops
Cleveland Guardians Outfielders
Cleveland Guardians Pitchers
A look back at the Cincinnati Reds
A look back at the Chicago White Sox
Chicago White Sox Catchers and Managers
Chicago White Sox First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Chicago White Sox Second Basemen and Shortstops
Chicago White Sox Outfielders
Chicago White Sox Pitchers
A look back at the Chicago Cubs
A look back at the Boston Red Sox
A look back at the Baltimore Orioles
Baltimore Orioles Catchers and Managers
Baltimore Orioles First and Third Basemen
Baltimore Orioles Second Basemen and Shortstops
Baltimore Orioles Outfielders and Designated Hitters
Baltimore Orioles Pitchers
A look back at the Atlanta Braves
A look back at the Arizona Diamondbacks
Arizona Diamondbacks Catchers and Managers
Arizona Diamondbacks First and Third Basemen
Arizona Diamondbacks Second Basemen and Shortstops
Arizona Diamondbacks Outfielders
Arizona Diamondbacks Pitchers