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Astros’ non-roster invitees: The catchers


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?
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About BrianT

Brian Todd is a freelance writer working and living in Rochester, Minn.

20 comments on “Astros’ non-roster invitees: The catchers

  1. Dan P
    February 26, 2014

    Well first of all Brian T – I want to know why you are writing about the National Rifle Association in an Astros blog. What? Huh? Oh sorry – I thought that was NRA not NRI….
    – Catching depth-wise I’m feeling pretty good at the moment – I’m not sure there are enough ABs to hand around for everybody leaning towards the top of the minors with everyone you are mentioning and the fact that the Astros will not be keeping 3 catchers on the 25 man…..But as you pointed out – catching is one position that really requires depth but rarely has good depth.
    – After the top 3 – I think Heineman is next man up (but as you showed in 2013 – trying to guess this is like trying to guess what Bo Porter means everytime he speaks).
    – I would like to see them consider moving Castro to first, but I am getting no inkling they want to consider it. Beyond that – if Stassi and Heineman are looking solid … they really should see if they can pick up something for Corporan at the trade deadline.
    – I’d like to see Stassi catch full time somewhere and it is most likely it will be in AAA. If Castro went down they might slide him to everyday at the mlb level, but I don’t want to see him sitting behind Corporan – if that is the case then have Perez back him up.

    Like

    • devin_
      February 26, 2014

      Wouldn’t it be great if our catching prospects’ defensive projections were enough to nickname them the NRA?

      Like

  2. Becky
    February 26, 2014

    Have not seen any catcher, other than Stassi…….but I’ve been beating the drum for a looooooooong time, that we *need* to draft a good catcher.

    Like

    • BrianT
      February 26, 2014

      Becky, your focus on the importance of defense is expected and appreciated. When I became an Astris fan in the late 70s, those teams were built on pitching, defense and speed. Part of that was a nod to the spacious ballpark of the day. That said, other than the Crawford Boxes, MMP is a spacious home, and good defense should never go out of style.

      Between Heineman and Stassi, I think we have a backstop of the future. And Garcia looks like the backup to whichever one we keep … Or he’s eventual trade bait.

      Like

  3. 1oldpro
    February 26, 2014

    All four of our young catchers are good defensively. Here’s hoping one of them developes into a good hitter. Castro will soon be expensive and won’t be any faster or healthier than he is at this age. I see two of our youngsters as our catchers of the future, once Castro’s arbitration years are over. Somebody with money will come and trade a bundle for him and lock him up.

    Like

  4. Steven
    February 27, 2014

    Not a Corporan fan – I would rather take Carlos Perez to Houston as the back up – but overall I think the Astros are looking pretty good at Catcher, better situated than a lot of teams, thats for sure.

    Castro should catch as many games as the staff thinks he can. Most major league teams don’t have a catcher with his offensive potential, so they are likely to assign their starter to 4 guys and have the backup catch 1. I would like to see the Astros do with Castro what the Indians do with Santana; bring Stassi to camp, if he is ready to catch, he catches 3-4 starters, Castro gets 1-2 and spends a lot of time at DH.

    But again, we have the Chris ICantCatchAnythingAnywhere Carter dilemma – and under the Steven plan Carter is probably your every day first baseman (ugh). Still a better offensive option than watching those other two yokels currently tabbed for first base have more than a few multi strikeout performances – I got it, I know Carter will too, but at least he hits more than the occasional homerun.

    This is why we can’t win. Too many weaknesses, similar weaknesses, spread out amongst the entire roster. Well, that, and the worst starting rotation in the league.

    Like

    • BrianT
      February 27, 2014

      Wow, that last paragraph really succinctly stated why with so many guys having a positive thing or two about them — Carter’s power, Villar’s speed, Dominguez’s glove and power, etc. — this team still has a long way to go. It’s not the strengths, it’s the weaknesses.

      Excellent point, Steven.

      Like

  5. daveb
    February 27, 2014

    It might well be that this team wins more games with Castro at first and Stassi behind the plate. But will they do it? What are the chances of Castro staying healthy for a full year as a catcher? So far, about nil. Of course a few have noted that Castro is more valuable behind the plate. But to who? And how valuable is he to anyone if he can’t play a full season, ending up back on the DL?

    Unless everyone trying to win the job at first falls on their collective faces, I fully expect Castro behind the plate and Corporan as the back up. Stassi should play everyday. As Dan noted, he’ll be in AAA. But not for long, if Castro ends up on the DL. At that point, Stassi gets the everyday job with Corporan as his backup. All that said, Garcia and Perez are pretty much stuck. They might get a shot at backup in place of Corporan at some point, but Stassi is the main man for now, as a replacement for Castro when he next takes a trip to the DH, or, if someone decides to give Castro a new glove in order to have both him and Stassi in the lineup.

    Like

  6. 1oldpro
    February 27, 2014

    The Astros showed some of their plan with the trade for Dexter Fowler. Trading young players with some talent for a guy to plug into a hole. They have lots of young pitchers and catchers. I look for another trade in the next year involving a young pitcher and catcher to bring us a player that we can use as a starter or a proven pitcher. They will abstain from signing a free agent who costs them their top draft picks and will fill out the team from the minors and trades.

    Like

    • daveb
      February 27, 2014

      oldpro, I agree, unfortunately, that we’ll see similar deals made in the future. We’ll keep plugging holes. And in 5 years, we’ll still be plugging holes with guys like Fowler, who will help the team to a certain extent, but are not the type of players to have a major impact. If we’re going to rely on our minor league system to supply all the high impact guys, at least for the next few years, then we’ll still struggle, regardless of how our minor league system is rated by various sources.

      Like

  7. 1oldpro
    February 27, 2014

    Daveb, you misread my intentions. I did not mean that Fowler is just a plug. I mean that he is a good player and we will keep the best of our young stars and trade some of the excess arms and catchers for more good players. I think we can build a great team with the draft and trades of good young prospects for the remainder of a winner.
    For example, if Dominguez keeps improving and becomes a stalwart #B and Rio Ruiz becomes a Top 100 prospect #B one of them might be traded for a great utility player to back up Correa at ss. That’s how you build a complete team with a great 25-man roster.

    Like

    • 1oldpro
      February 27, 2014

      Taking it further, imagine in the spring of 2016, you have Rodon, Appel, Cosart, McCullers, and Velasquez who you want as starters, but you have Ober and Hader and Feliz and Wojo and Cruz and Rollins all knocking at the door and you have a spot in your lineup that still you don’t have a good player in. You trade what you have a ton of for something you need to get your team over the hump. Not filler, but key pieces!

      Like

  8. Bo Weaver
    February 27, 2014

    I think Becky is right. This organization,needs to draft another solid catcher.

    Why? Castro will eventually be relegated to 1B (not likely in short term) or traded (very likely as his price tag goes up).

    Y’see, the problem with Castro is, as Becky has emphasized, he’s not really that good at fielding his position, throwing out runners, framing pitches, and calling games. That makes him overvalued as a “good hitting catcher”.

    Luhnow knows this and will punt him as his (falsely inflated) value soars.

    Like

  9. daveb
    February 27, 2014

    oldpro, I can imagine what you are saying, but rare is the organization that can generate a great team by going about business the way you suggest. I’d feel much better seeing the Cardinal system in use, where a top flight minor league system is supplemented by significant free agent signings. Right now, I don’t see a future financially that allows us to become a great team anytime soon, as good as our system might be.

    Like

    • Bo Weaver
      February 27, 2014

      daveb is seeing the same future that I see. You gotta pay to play, especially in the ALWest.

      Like

    • devin_
      February 27, 2014

      Yeah, it won’t happen overnight. I keep singing the same song though – if we get high enough returns on our top picks (Correa, Appel, hopefully Rodon) in the 2015 season we should be competitive with any other team in the AL West by following the STL or TB model. Having impact players under team control will then cause free agents to want to come to Houston at fair market value.

      Like

      • Bo Weaver
        February 27, 2014

        Free Agents coming to Houston at fair market value? How can a franchise with crap for revenue and crud for a fanbase within a decimated market afford to do such?

        Cheap young studs can only get you so far…until you gotta pay ’em.

        The TV deal may come around in a year or two, but it will pale in comparison to others’ revenue stream. MARK MY WORDS.

        The koolaid you drink makes you hallucinate that Crane will generously open up his wallet and dole out moolah that he doesn’t have for FA’s (I assume you mean IMPACT FA’s — FAs better than Ankiel, Feldman, and Jerome Willaims, right?).

        Crane bucking up for impact FA’s at fair market value — that’s a knee-slapper!!

        Like

      • BrianT
        February 28, 2014

        And your proof of Crane’s cheap ways is ..?

        He upped the payroll to nearly $50 million.

        Besides, why does it take a $90-plus million payroll to win? What was Oakland’s payroll last year? How did huge contracts help the A’s? How will Cano’s deal benefit Seattle in its last two or three years?

        You’re a broken record with no proof to back up your tinfoil hat theories.

        Like

      • devin_
        February 28, 2014

        Bo, you are off here. Oakland gets free agents. They may not be signing a CC Sabathia or Josh Hamilton contract, but they are still getting them. Wouldn’t you want Coco Crisp’s production in our outfield? Fair market value would probably mean Feldman gets $8 million per year rather than $12. Especially on a tight budget it adds up quickly when you overpay.

        Like

  10. Bo Weaver
    February 27, 2014

    Stassi looks like a good prospect. He’ll be in the mix within a year, I predict. Still, if Castro is on the way out, then another will be needed soon enough. My advice: draft the next Johnny Bench.

    Like

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This entry was posted on February 26, 2014 by in Astros.
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