by Brian Todd
When 2013’s calendar turned to spring, the Astros invited four non-roster catchers to Kissimmee, mainly to handle all the pitchers the team planned to audition. Chris Wallace, Carlos Perez, Jason Jaramillo and Rene Garcia: Considering the 27 games Carlos Corporan had put together in 2012, each one must have known that it would take an injury—Corporan or Jason Castro—for any of them to make it to Houston.
No such luck—good or bad, depending on your point of view—for the four. The Astros took Castro and Corporan to Houston, and for four-plus months it looked like that’s all Houston would need. Then Corporan goes down in late August, so you’d think one of those for NRIs makes it to The Show. Nope.
Instead, Max Stassi knocks the cover off the ball in Corpus Christi and gets called up to Houston. One ball to the face later, Stassi is out and you’d think one of the four gets called up. Nope
Cody Clark brings his big bat up to Houston and splits time with a hobbling Castro who finally goes down for good around Labor Day. So maybe one of the four finally gets his chance, right? Nope.
Rather, the Astros send some cash to the Braves for Matt Pagnozzi, and with rosters expanded they carry four catchers—Pagnozzi, Clark, Coporan and Stassi—to the end of the season. So, none of the non-roster invitees ever cracked the roster in Houston.
Fast forward to 2014, and Garcia and Perez are back as non-roster invitees along with Tyler Heineman. So, what are the Astros getting from these NRIs?
Well, Garcia split 2013 between AA and AAA, combining for a slash line of .293/.336/.394 with 50 Ks and 22 BBs in 368 ABs. If he hadn’t tanked in his short stint in OKC, he probably would have gotten the call ahead of Stassi in August.
Perez had a similar path—AA and AAA—with a slash line of .271/.332/.356 with 50 Ks and 29 BBs in 317 combined ABs.
Meanwhile, Heineman spent all of 2013 in Lancaster. Chances are he’s headed for Corpus Christi to start 2014. But he put together a pretty impressive season at the plate in 2013, going .286/.361/.476 in 370 ABs with 47 Ks and 32 BBs. Granted, that was in the gusting air of the Cal League, but if he can continue his success in Corpus and perhaps OKC, maybe he’s the guy to call if the injury bug hits.
For the record, Pagnozzi is a Brewer, Clark is looking for a team, Wallace (Chris, not Brett) was sent packing to the Indians organization, and Jaramillo was sent to the Mariners organization.
So, here are the catcher questions to ponder:
- Between the three backstops on the 40-man roster and the NRIs, how do you feel about the organizational depth at catcher?
- Catcher can be an injury-prone position, and considering their history, it’s only a matter of time before Castro, Corporan and/or Stassi spend a little time on the DL. Who is the first call up after Stassi? Who is the second?
- If Stassi, Garcia or Heineman continue to hit in the minors, is do the Astros move Castro to first base by the All-Star Break and call one of them up? Should Luhnow trade Corporan for whatever he can get and call up another?
- If there is an injury to Castro during spring training, would you rather have Corporan start and bring up Garcia as a backup so Stassi can spend a little time learning in OKC? What if the injury is to Corporan? Then should Stassi stay on the bench or play most days at AAA?