KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- After weeks of discussion, the Astros decided Friday to move switch-hitting infield prospect Jimmy Paredes back to second base, a decision which makes Chris Johnson the front-runner to start at third base on Opening Day.
The Astros cut six players from Major League camp on Friday morning, including Paredes, who took over as the starter at third base for the final two months of last season. He was battling with Johnson and Brett Wallace for the starting nod this spring, but will begin working out at second base in Minor League camp.
"The staff sat down and had a long meeting about it and went through these things, and we feel it's going to be best for him, best for the organization, as we move forward," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "I think a lot of it had to do with how well Wallace has played third base this spring, how well C.J. has played this spring. All those things kind of enter into it."
Mills wasn't ready to label Johnson as the starter at third, but admitted he has a leg up over Wallace, last year's Opening Day starter at first who's been playing some third this spring as well. Mills also said Brian Bogusevic is the favorite to start in right.
Johnson isn't going to take anything for granted.
"Everybody's kind of asking me about it today," Johnson said. "I'm trying to not worry about it, because they haven't said, 'Yeah, you're the third baseman,' yet. When that day comes, I'll be pretty excited. That just means I have the upper hand and have to lock it in right now and just take it. If it was my job, they would have said it was my job."
Paredes, an athletic 23-year-old acquired from the Yankees in 2010 in the Lance Berkman trade, has played second, third and shortstop in the Minor Leagues. Paredes has spent most of his time at second base, and he started the 2011 season at second at Double-A Corpus Christi before being moved to third.
"We've been talking about it for a while," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "When Paredes was with the Yankees, he started at shortstop and he got moved to second base, and really I was trying to figure out from the time I got here why he was at third base, because he really does have all the skillset and tools to play the middle infield. It sounded to me like the decision was made to maybe accommodate other players who were moving around, like [Jose] Altuve and so forth. Really, throughout the spring we've been debating, 'What's his natural position?'
"He's gifted enough [that] he can play second, he can play short, he can play third, he can play center field. But when you think about his tool set -- his speed, his arm, his hands, his feet, his bat ... the whole profile -- he's a guy that we think could be an impact second baseman down the line. Why delay, really, if this is the ultimate position he's going to play and play for a long time at the big league level? Let's get started on it now."
Luhnow said when you have a player with Paredes' potential, you don't put him at a defensive position based on other players. The Astros have 21-year-old Altuve pegged to start at second base, and former first-round pick Delino DeShields Jr. is also a second baseman.
"You put [Paredes] in the position that's best for him and you let it play out," Luhnow said.
Paredes, outfielder Fernando Martinez and pitcher Aneury Rodriguez were optioned to Triple-A Oklahoma City, and pitchers Xavier Cedeno and Jose Valdez and outfielder Brad Snyder were reassigned to Minor League camp. That leaves the Astros with 41 players in big league camp.
Johnson, 27, has had a strong spring, hitting .367 with two homers and five RBIs in 30 at-bats entering Friday. Paredes, who batted .286 with two homers and 18 RBIs in 46 games after getting called up from Double-A last year, was hitting .190 in Grapefruit League action.
Wallace entered Friday hitting .321 with one homer and six RBIs.
"They're both putting up good offensive numbers and they're both playing well defensively," Luhnow said of Johnson and Wallace. "That [competition] is going to go down to the end, and we'll see what happens. There are scenarios where both of them stay on the team. Realistically, we want both of them playing every day, so we'll see what happens."
Johnson was named the Opening Day starter a year ago after batting .308 with 11 homers and 52 RBIs in 2010, but he got off to a poor start and was sent to Triple-A in August. He hit .251 with seven homers and 42 RBIs in 107 games for Houston last year.
None of the other players sent from Major League camp on Friday were expected to make the club. Martinez, a former top prospect in the Mets system, was claimed off waivers, but he has an option remaining and will start the year in the Minor Leagues.