Brad Mills hinted that J.R. Towles will break camp with the team and will share catching duties with Humberto Quintero. This decision ends weeks of speculation about what the Astros would do for the catcher’s role since Jason Castro’s injury. While Mills did not say this much exactly after Saturday’s loss to the Nationals, he did say that he praised Corporan for the effort that he gave but that it did not take a lot to see who was getting the most reps as spring wore on. Mills stated the Quintero will catch Myers, and that they were going to divide it up from there. His money quote was that who starts the most will largely depend on which individual is playing better, hitting better, and working out behind the plate better.
That last statement leads me to believe that J.R. Towles and Humberto Quintero’s reps will be pretty evenly split the first week or two of the season, and if one candidates play is substantially better than the others, then that player will emerge as a de facto starter. If Towles is unable to turn the page then Mills will have Carlos Corporan ready and waiting at Oklahoma City to show what he can do.
For Towles this means a third chance, which is something that players hardly ever get with the same organization. Out of the candidates for the starters role J.R. Towles is the player with the most upside being a former top prospect within the organization. If J.R. Towles was able to have a comeback year then the Astros would be in an unfamiliar position of possessing good quality young catching depth. With Quintero playing the role of the ideal backup catcher, and the Astros starting to have quality catching depth in their farm system, one of the Astros weakest positions the last couple of years could turn into one of the strengths within the organization.
One of the factors that should help Towles this time around is that by his role not being defined as the everyday starter, he should not feel as much pressure and can focus on each individual start more than having to focus on every start. Pressure is a factor that Towles has had to deal with in each of the last two years that he was named the starter. The first year he was coming into his first full season, and was already named the starter after having a promising end to the previous year. That type of pressure for a young player is tough to deal with. The next time that he was awarded the starting role he had to deal with the fact that if he faltered again then new top catching prospect Jason Castro was ready to take his place. This year he just has to play his game, and it seems like Brad Mills has made it a point not to put any added pressure on Towles.
In the end I think that this is the right decision. Going outside of the organization to try and find a catcher for just this season would have been hard to do especially when the Astros were sitting on a catcher with as much talent and upside as Towles possesses. Hopefully having Quintero taking an equal number of starts alongside him will be able to alleviate some of the pressure and allow him to completely focus on his game. It will be interesting to see just how long of a leash Brad Mills and company are going to give J.R. Towles this season.