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