Catcher, Conspiracy Theories and Castro’s Position


Brian T takes a look behind the plate as our Astros’ 2014 outlook continues.

Past outlooks: First Base •  Second Base  •  Shortstop  •  Third Base. • Outfield.

• •• ••• •• •

Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. The moon landings were real. And Jason Castro will play catcher. There, I debunked three conspiracy theories for you.

To expect anyone other than Jason Castro to start the bulk of the games behind home plate is crazy. Capricorn One crazy. Grassy knoll crazy. Barring injuries and lots of them, Castro will play catcher—not first base—for the foreseeable future in Houston for two very good reasons:

One: The Astros have made moves this offseason to bolster first base, particularly the acquisition of Jesus Guzman to likely platoon with Brett Wallace. Should that platoon fail, there is first baseman-of-the-future Jonathan Singleton in AAA. Whether you think the Guzman deal was worthwhile or if you think Singleton is ready or not doesn’t matter. The Astros, by their actions, believe right now that Castro will not play first base in 2014 on anything resembling a permanent basis.

Two: Catcher is one of the few spots the Astros like what they have. You can complain about his pitch framing or his defense all you like, but Castro posted an .835 OPS at catcher last season. Why would the team decide to mess with that? Why turn a position of strength into a weakness?

Here’s a tiny taste of what Castro brings to the plate. Of catchers who put in more than half the season behind the plate, only Dioner Navarro and Yadier Molina had better OPSs. He fell just short of 20 HRs. Castro wasn’t an All Star by default. At his position, he’s an All Star. Period.

The fact is, catcher is a strength in Houston. In addition to Castro, Carlos Corporan put up a .225/.287/.361 slash line. That .648 OPS might be just so-so if we’re looking at a starter at catcher … and Corporan is a significant upgrade defensively … but Houston gains so much with Castro’s bat. More importantly, Luhnow and company obviously believe the platoon or Singleton will perform well enough that it is not worth moving Castro’s bat to first and putting Corporan behind the dish full time.

Here’s another fact. Carlos Corporan is a backup catcher. Now don’t get me wrong, for a backup backstop, Corporan is aces. He has real value. The fact that other teams haven’t inundated Luhnow with offers for Corporan is mindboggling. Or, and here’s a conspiracy you can sink your teeth into, maybe they have. But the Astros would rather keep Corporan than take a chance on handing over one-fifth of the starts to Max Stassi.

Wait, you say, what about Max Stassi? Isn’t he the catcher of the future?

Maybe. And, if that day comes, perhaps then Castro gets moved to first base if the Astros don’t have a better option. More likely, Castro gets traded. Hence the reason (conspiracy alert!) Castro was signed for a season and not given an Altuve-like extension.

So, what about the non-Castro catching future. Well, as I said, there’s Max Stassi. He had seven ABs in 2013 in Houston before a pitch to the face ended his season. But his career minor league OPS is .759, and that’s a number that has been improving. Last season in Corpus Chrisi, Stassi posted an .863 OPS. The year before in A+ Stockton, he put up an OPS of .799. See the trend?

He doesn’t walk a lot, and he strikes out too much—not Carter too much, but still, 68 Ks in 289 ABs in AA last season is a pace to whiff about 120 to 130 times in a full season of work.

But he’s got power. When healthy, he’s easily a double-digit homer guy. In essence, he’s Castro but with better defense.

But the only reason he came up last year was injuries. Castro stays healthy, Corporan is healthy, Stassi never sniffs playing time above AA.

Anyone else? Matt Pagnozzi is gone. Cody Clark was a nice feel-good story, who has no business on a major league roster. Tyler Heineman was fairly awesome in Lancaster in 2013—batting line of .286/.361/.476 in 370 ABs, 13 HRs, 32 BBs and ONLY 47 Ks. It’ll be nice to see what he does in Corpus without Lancaster’s jet stream. Carlos Perez spent most of 2013 in OKC with a batting line of .269/.328/.345. He doesn’t have a lot of power, so he has backup catcher written all over him. Rene Garcia had a .767 OPS in Corpus, but seemed to have hit a wall in limited action in OKC with a .556 OPS. Frankly, the sample size is kind of small there, but he definitely does not have Stassi’s power.

So, here are my questions to ponder:

Injury seemed to plague our catching corps in 2013. Yet, with Heineman, Garcia and even Perez, this seems to be a deep position throughout the organization. (Remember a few years ago, when there’d be no way we could say that?) Should we hold onto our catchers (fearing injury) or use this surplus as trade bait?

Are you ready to trade Corporan and hand over backup duties to Stassi? Or would you rather Stassi season a bit in AAA?

Both Castro and Stassi had breakout years in 2013 due to their health (through early September and mid-August respectively). Which one is the Astros catcher of the future? And before you jump on the Stassi bandwagon, remember, Castro was a legit All Star. Stassi’s major league claim to fame is getting hit in the face and injured … again.

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42 comments on “Catcher, Conspiracy Theories and Castro’s Position

  1. Nice write-up about Castro and I agree he should be behind the plate until Stassi is ready. Max needs to get at least another year of minor league work but I have no problem with looking to trade some of our lower echelon catching talent for other talent. As for pitch framing and defense, I wish Castro would just stop some of the passed balls, but the bat is currently more valuable than his defense.

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  2. Yeah, Brian – I’m one of those who think that Castro to 1B is a possibility – but only because of his multiple leg injuries. I know that he has a lot more value as an offensive C and I also hope if he stays at catcher that his defense will improve as the pitchers he has to catch improve their aim….
    You are probably right – they will not move Castro until another viable proven option is there and by move – I think move to another team is probable.
    Anyways – he showed a lot more with the bat last season period and I was especially encouraged with his .738 OPS against leftys. That is beyond decent for lefty on lefty.
    Durability is the question – the last 3 seasons his number of starts as a C have been 0, 73, and 95.
    Corporan is a decent backup – good D and occasional pop.
    Stassi may not be the guy of the future – perhaps it is Heineman?

    The number of prospects starting to rise to the top of the minors at catcher caused them to expose Carlos Perez to the Rule 5 draft this season. I think if folks prove themselves able at AA and AAA that a trade of somebody is inevitable.

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  3. Corporan is making the league minimum and is arb eligible in 2015. With young catchers in the upper minors, look for him to be moved before then.
    Castro is the starter for now, but, if he duplicates last year it will be time to sign and trade ore just trade him and let someone else sign him by the time both Stassi and Heineman are ready to fight it out for the two catching slots in spring, 2016.

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  4. Brian – pretty spot on your assessment. I think the Astros have no different plans than to trot Castro out there for 4 of the 5 starters every week. I think the Astros recognize Corporan’s strengths and will pair him with Cosart. Maybe Porter goes a different route – but it’s mincing details at this point. Castro will be the primary guy, defensie lapses aside.

    Also agree that Corporan is best fit for the role he is assigned, he cannot hit well enough to play more often.

    I am surprised Perez isn’t getting more press as a possible 2nd catcher though – hits a little better than Corporan, and has a better arm. Not sure about what I don’t know that Astros management does – maybe its attitude, maybe its something we just dont know, but the intangibles would suggest to me he would be better, and cheaper, than Corporan.

    Stassi is a wait and see. Talking about 2015 or 2016 can be fun, and exciting, but I am usually the wait and see guy. Glad he is in the system, but I am a fan of the now, and my interests lies in who is catching Feldman on opening day.

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  5. With the extreme shortage of good catchers on the FA market this year, expect a team to come calling for Corporan. He’s younger, and more durable than most of the FA catchers who were signed this off season.
    I think Luhnow is in a “watch and see” with Stassi this year. Perez is an interesting catcher, but still has some growing to do….so I think if Stassi joins the big club this summer, Perez will get promoted. Brian……I agree
    with you about a move to 1st. base for Castro, that won’t happen until
    he is traded to another club who wants to try that experiment. Until…. or unless the Astros trade Castro……he’s your guy behind the dish, WARTS and ALL!!

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  6. The Astros have four minor league catchers who are all good defensive catchers. I expect Heineman and Garcia to be at CC and Perez and Stassi to be at OKC. Both those combos would probably be C/DH tandems and show their stuff to the Astros. Corp and Castro to be in Houston until a trade developes,if it does.

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  7. It’s not that I don’t think Castro might be moved to first base eventually. It’s just not happening this season. Everything the Astros have done–or not done–this offseason says they plan for Castro to start behind the dish.

    That doesn’t mean if the platoon falters and Singleton falters that they won’t change their minds next year.

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  8. Corporan is “aces”, cough, cough, has “real value”? Really now. I bet you a nickel he won’t finish the year with a BA over .210. Sure, he’s a better defensive CA than Castro (and that isn’t saying much) but he just can’t hit a lick.

    And last year was an anomaly. Look at his numbers from 2012, and you’ll get a better idea of what to expect.

    Seriously guys. You are so used to watching scrubs and rationalizing bad play, that you’ve lost your comparative objectivity. If Corporan were released, I bet half the teams wouldn’t even pick him up off the waiver wire. Some value.

    Corporan is a below average backup catcher at best. Not “aces”.

    Geez Louise.

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    • Look at backup catchers across MLB. Corporan is a good reserve. And his 2012 numbers were much better than 2013. He does have value AS A BACKUP CATCHER.

      I realize nothing on this team is ever good enough for you, but that doesn’t mean you’re right.

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  9. Bopert………*NO* one said Corporan was “aces”. He handles a pitching staff pretty good. He will be on the 25 man roster, unless or until he is traded.

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  10. He does handle the pitching staff well. I grant you that. He blocks bad balls pretty well, and his arm is average at best.

    Will he make the roster? Yes. Will he return “real value” in a trade? Don’t you believe that for a millisecond.

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    • As a piece in a trade, he’s got real value. Reserve catchers start about 1/5th of a team’s games. Most starters don’t have significantly better offensive stats that Corporan. So many teams would be happy with him.

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      • FYI, the MLB average OPS for catcher is .698. Corporan, a reserve catcher, posted a .648 OPS. Corporan has offensive value … Plus he’s a better-than-average defender. Sorry to let the facts get in the way of your angry rant.

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    • Corporan posted .648 OPS over less than 200 ABs last year. Big deal. He also whiffed over 30% of the time, with a k/bb rate over 6! And that was in a “good” year.

      Look at the numbers over his career prior to last year. How many career ABs has he had?

      Again, my position is that last year was an anomaly, and he’s actually a lot worse than that.

      I base my opinions mainly on what I see. Prior to last year, he really looked lost at the plate. Overmatched is putting it nicely.

      A below-average backup CA, at best, is what we have here. Nothing more.

      To claim he’s “aces” and has “real value” in ANY context is absolutely preposterous.

      C’mon!!

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      • Bo, I hammered Corporan in the past. But don’t forget he lost a baby in October 2012. That proves nothing, but lets give him a chance to see if that struggle carried on to the field. That said, in his best year, he is an average back up. But compared to the other options at the end of 2013, he is a huge improvement.

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  11. Looking at Corporans stats, he has a low BB rate, a high K rate, a way below average BA and OBP. He throws out runners at a below league avg and all of his defensive stats arew below league average. He is a poor player so I agree with Bo on his assessment. I just disagree with Bo on his lousy presentation of the assessment. As a commenter, Bo is a scrub.

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    • Of course Corporan is below average. He’s a backup catcher. He’s not a starter. But in the world of backup catchers, he’s one of the better ones. And that’s where he has value.

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      • Corporan is one of the better back-up CAs in MLB. Sure, his stats indicate otherwise, but since he’s a nice guy and has overcome personal tragedy, we’ll delude ourselves. Meanwhile, when he bats .204 and whiffs 32 times out of every 100 ABs in 2014, we’ll slowly start to realize that… (you fill in the blank).

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      • Brian, I really want my backup catcher to be above average at something, anything. Agood eye or above average at throwing out runners, or great at framing, or a geat fielder or at least some home run threat as a pinch hitter. Corporan is below average at everything. So, in my opinion he is not a very good backup catcher.

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    • Agreed. Content over delivery, sir. I concede as it’s 100% true.

      Let’s be civil and agree that it’s fair game for me to criticize your content (especially when it’s poisoned with delusional false hope and/or not supported by fact), and y’all can rail on my delivery all you want. Cool?

      At the end of the day, it’ll always come down to WATCH WHAT HAPPENS anyway.

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  12. There is no indication that Castro can give us a full year behind the plate. Stassi is already a better backstop. Castro has become quite a good hitter. I’d like to have that bat in the lineup 150 games a year. Sure, it’s likely that Castro will catch the bulk of games in 2014, but it would not be crazy to see Stassi back there either. Castro has averaged just 68.5 games over the past four years. For a young guy, he’s pretty injury prone. What it comes to for me is this: I’d rather see Stassi behind the plate than Wallace at first base.

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    • Agreed! Stassi will modestly break through this year and get some decent PT in the second half. Next year is when Stassi will truly break out, however. I predict Wallace will be released by end of spring training, and Corporan will be gone by season’s end.

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  13. Looking at the Corporan question objectively and by spending about 20 minutes looking at each team in the AL and their 2013 stats – I find the following:
    1) Most of the teams in the AL have a better backup than Corporan.
    2) However, a number of the teams have such a train wreck at catcher / backup catcher – that I believe they would grab him up quickly if cut or trade for him if available.
    Just take a minute to look at the catcher position for the Angels, Yanks, Orioles, White Sox and Blue Jays and I think you will see an opportunity for someone like Corporan in the market.

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    • I agree Dan. There are a LOT of teams who would like Corporan. I could care less if he hits HR’s………he is MUCH better than Castro
      getting to pass balls. and wild pitches.

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  14. Excepting the 6 HR in 108 AB, as a LHB he was pretty terrible last season. As a RHB he was better, but only had 1 HR in his 83 AB. He was only slightly better at home than on the road.

    However, it would be a shame to delude ourselves into thinking we could expect such lofty numbers as .225 / .287 / .361 in 2014 from Corporan. He was absolutely terrible after July 1st last year. I’ll allow the sample size was small, but he was quite good at emulating an NL pitcher hitting in an AL lineup. The best thing you can say about him is that he was just below league average at throwing out runners. Aside from that, and his league minimum salary, there is not much reason to keep him on the 25 man roster let alone assume someone would want to trade for him.

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  15. I actually hope they hold onto Corporan as a backup so that Stassi et al can stay in the minors and play every day. Now if Stassi tears it up at OKC and the first base situation flops so that Castro needs to take some reps there then bring up Stassi and make him the primary catcher and let Castro be the backup catcher option. I don’t see much point in making one of the young guys come up and take a roster spot and play a mere 20% of the time unless they don’t think they will be starter material. Bear in mind that Corporan does have more MLB experience at handling a pitching staff than any of the young guys and since our staff is probably going to be pretty young that may be the biggest reason for hanging on to him.

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    • Totally agree. Truly that is where Corporan’s value lies, if anywhere. Not as a valuable trade piece, but as a stopgap, giving his acquired tutelage to the young staff, and giving Stassi time to heal.

      Now, if Castro gets hurt…

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  16. RE: Bopert’s complaint about Corporan’s 2012 numbers…
    I think you mean his numbers in 2011, when he was arguably the worst catcher in the major leagues. In 2012, he spent most of the year in AAA but did well upon his callup. So, if last year was an anomaly, then he’s had two anomalies in a row. I think that is what we call a ‘trend’. For his career, in about a full season, he’s .225/.287/.361 with 11 HRs in 424 ABS. Not good for a starter, but for a backup in there once every 4 or 5 days I’ll take it, especially with the typically weak offense other backup catchers (and quite a few starters) provide these days.

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  17. re: Corporan’s homers, I think this highlights one area in which he’s improved. Not so much his power, per se, but his improved ability to hit bad pitches.

    Clearly he’s overmatched most of the time. But I do recall seeing several of the pitches he jacked last year. THIS is the anomaly I think I spotted in limited viewership last season — his inordinate number of bad pitches.

    And, to his credit, he’s improved his ability to jack them.

    Will he hit .225 this year, and cut down on his Ks? I don’t think so. Will he have the same HR-to-AB ratio this coming season. Definitely not.

    Even though he has improved slightly, I still think he’s a scrub with little overall value other than plug the gap.

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    • Perhaps, but I think that word is becoming less applicable to the Astros. Castro is no scrub. Matty D might not be Mike Schmidt at the plate, but he’s approaching Brooks Robinson with the leather. Our bullpen should hold its own (and hold some leads!) this season. Our outfield, once Springer arrives, should go from abysmal to in the top 10 in baseball.

      Will we win 70 games? I doubt it. There are still too many scrubs. But there are far fewer in 2014.

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  18. Seems the fine folks over at Climbing Tal’s Hill agree with me on Corporan. From John Burgess:

    “Carlos Corporan will be traded during Spring Training, and Max Stassi will be the team’s backup catcher.

    Carlos Corporan is coming off of his best MLB season. He showed some decent pop at the plate, and did a nice job managing his pitchers while filling in for Jason Castro. He has been a nice safety blanket for the Astros since Castro appears to have porcelain knees. Corporan would fit in nicely for a contending team in need of a veteran backup.”

    Maybe I’m only slightly crazy.

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    • I don’t think you’re crazy, but want to point out we’re not playing fantasy baseball. Based on 2013 results, Castro is probably the Astros best player right now. If you want to maximize his at-bats then you are going to pencil him into the lineup as often as possible. That means your backup catcher is either going to get a lot of splinters or we’ll see a lot of games with Castro playing DH. I’m not a fan of that strategy. I’d like to see Stassi get regular playing time somewhere.

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    • Stassi would certainly be an upgrade, but making the kid a back up catcher at his point in his development would do him no favors. He’d be better off playing everyday in AAA.

      John Burgess?

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  19. Brian……like I said, there WILL be some teams that come calling for Corporan. Who knows……Luhnow is pretty dang good at getting something in return! Trading Wallace, Harrell, and Corporan…….I’d do that trade in a New York minute!!

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