KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Tommy Manzella and Brian Bogusevic, college teammates who were trying to land spots on the Opening Day roster, were among four players cut from camp on Thursday in a move that further clarifies the races for the backup infield and outfield spots.
Manzella, an infielder, and Bogusevic, an outfielder, were optioned to the Minor Leagues, along with left-handed reliever Wesley Wright. Catcher Brian Esposito was reassigned to the Minor Leagues, and catcher Robinson Cancel was moved to Major League camp to take his place, though he won't make the Opening Day roster.
The moves leave the Astros with 39 healthy players in camp one week prior to the deadline to trim rosters to 25.
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"When you get to this point of Spring Training, every decision is tough," general manager Ed Wade said. "When you start out with 63 [players], even the early moves are tough. There's disappointment associated with a player told he's going to the other side, and as you get close to the start of the season, it becomes even more difficult."
Manzella, 27, was the Astros' starting shortstop on Opening Day last year but was left fighting for a roster spot after Clint Barmes was acquired via trade in November. Manzella had a good spring at the plate and played some second base and third base, but he doesn't have as much versatility as some of the other infielders in the mix.
"I knew going in that my back was against the wall, because I had never played second or third before and they were going to want to see me play those positions, and there were others in camp I was competing with who had experience moving around," Manzella said. "I was hoping during the spring I would be able to prove a little bit more to them, maybe get a few more opportunities at second and third. But the way things worked out, I got most of my playing time at short, and that's how things work out. Everything happens for a reason, and my goal right now is to go down to Triple-A [Oklahoma City] and play as well as I can. I know at some point there's going to be another opportunity, and I just have to be ready when that comes."
Manzella will play mostly shortstop for Oklahoma City, though he'll see some time at second and third. Bogusevic will play right field for Oklahoma City and make a few appearances at first. Wright, who recently changed his delivery to a sidearm angle, will continue to pitch in relief.
"Wesley is a very bright guy and is committed to an arm-angle change, and people with a lot more pitching experience, like [pitching coach Brad Arnsberg], feel this has a chance to be really good for him and for us," Wade said.
Manzella's departure leaves four infielders -- Matt Downs, Anderson Hernandez, Angel Sanchez and Oswaldo Navarro -- battling for two spots. Downs might have the upper hand because he can play anywhere and has swung the bat well, but Hernandez can also be moved all over the diamond and is a switch-hitter. Sanchez, who is out of options, performed well last year with the Astros.
"We start to look at the composition of the bench now, and only having five [bench] spots open, it just became apparent there were people ahead of Tommy," Wade said. "He'll go back to Triple-A and continue to play well, and we know at some point in time we're going to have to reach down there and bring the best guy back, and hopefully Tommy's in position when the call comes."
With Bogusevic out of the picture, Jason Bourgeois or non-roster invitee J.B. Shuck will get the final outfield spot unless the Astros acquire another player. Bourgeois served in that role for a time last year, and even started 11 games in center field at the end of the season when Michael Bourn went on the disabled list.
Bourgeois has had a strong camp, entering Thursday hitting .314 with four stolen bases. The fact that Bogusevic swings the bat from the left side was a bonus for him, but Bourgeois' good spring and his experience couldn't be ignored.
"The bat-off-the-bench role is tough for a young guy to roll himself into," Wade said. "They're used to getting 375, 400 at-bats at the Minor League level and maybe get called up and still be sharp and game ready. It becomes much more difficult when you get four or five at-bats a week at the big league level and understand what the level of preparation is associated with that.
"We're fortunate here that we have a guy like Jason Michaels who's done it and can help mentor younger players, if we have a young guy filling that role. We recognize it's a tough one to fill, and we felt the right thing for us right now was to let Bogie go play and figure that one out down the road."
When asked about the 23-year-old Shuck in that role, Wade said, "It's held against the same backdrop. That's a tough job. J.B. makes really good contact, he can bunt, he's an above-average runner and can play all three defensive positions. He's still in the mix."
Hernandez and Carlos Corporan, who's battling for a spot as a backup catcher, are both switch-hitters, and Shuck swings from the left side. Wade said that the team would like to have a left-handed bat off the bench but that it isn't imperative.
"Time and circumstance will dictate whether we're exclusively right-handed or not," Wade said.
In addition to deciding the final two infield positions and one reserve outfield spot, the Astros need to find another catcher to join Humberto Quintero. Corporan and J.R. Towles are in the running, and the team has been looking for catching since incumbent starter Jason Castro went down with an injury earlier this month.
There are 18 healthy pitchers in camp, and though the rotation is set, there are plenty of decisions to be made regarding the bullpen, especially when it comes to Rule 5 picks Aneury Rodriguez and Lance Pendleton.
"We've got things to figure out," Wade said. "One would say your big decisions are made. You've decided who your fifth starter is, you've decided who your closer is, you've decided this, that and the other thing. The fact of the matter is, we recognize the importance of the composition of the bench and what opportunities it provides for [manager Brad Mills].
"In all candor, we're going to be guided by what Millsie feels is appropriate with the composition of the bench, because he's the one that will look down there and make sure that, as best we can, we've provided him the pieces to make effective moves late in the game."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.