The recent trade that added Evan Gattis to the Astros leaves the team with an unusual problem. They have too many catchers. What are they going to do with all of those guys? By the time the season starts, they’re going to need to shave it down to two or three at the most.
Spring Training will start soon, and the competition for the catching jobs in Houston is going to be intense. Most Major League teams generally carry two or possibly three catchers, so there isn’t any extra space on the roster for others. It is obvious that Gattis is assured a spot, whether behind the plate or in the outfield has yet to be determined (likely both). Because Gattis plays more than one position, the Astros will have the luxury of carrying three catchers on the active roster without taking up too much space.
Sep 7, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Houston Astros catcherJason Castro
(15) is congratulated by teammates after scoring a run against the Oakland Athletics in the seventh inning at O.co Coliseum. The Astros defeated the Athletics 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Where do the other catchers fit in?
Last year’s starter was Jason Castro, the former 1st round draft pick. Castro made his Astros debut in 2010, and in four big league seasons, he has yet to play in more than 126 games in one year. His durability has come into question, and he has been injured several times. His best season at the plate was 2013, when he hit .276 with 18 home runs and 56 RBI, in 120 games. His strikeouts are a problem: 130 in 2013 and 151 in 2014 – too many on an already strikeout-prone team.
Carlos Corporan has been the Astros backup catcher for the past four seasons. Corporan is a solid guy behind the plate, but less so with a bat. All told, in 594 big league at-bats (a full season’s appearances for other position players), Corporan hit .226 with 17 home runs and 63 RBI, with 165 strikeouts in 199 games. He will probably never play full-time, however, he is great as a backup.
Hank Conger spent parts of the past five seasons with the Angels, hitting about the same as Corporan: .224, 17 home runs, 71 RBI, 164 strikeouts in 251 games and 688 at-bats. Conger is four years younger than Corporan, a plus in his favor. So far only a backup, Conger still has potential as a starter. He has yet to show what he can do in a full season.
Sep 5, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Los Angeles Angels catcherHank Conger
(24) at bat against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Max Stassi is the youngest of the group, at 23. A fourth round pick by the Oakland A’s in 2009, Stassi arrived in Houston via trade (with Chris Carter and Brad Peacock for Jed Lowrie and Fernando Rodriguez). Stassi has only played seven big league games in parts of 2013 and 2014, too little time to be a factor or to really know his capabilities. Spring Training 2014 can be his time to prove what he can do, and possibly carve out a spot for himself on the Astros roster as a backup (at least for now).
A possible scenario for this group includes seeing Gattis and Conger splitting time behind the plate, with Gattis also playing left field. Such a situation leaves Castro open to be traded, possibly for a mid-level starting pitcher or a couple of minor league prospects. Corporan will likely stay with the Astros as a bench player and solid backup, with Stassi being sent to Triple-A Fresno, unless he has a spectacular spring.
Having too many catchers is a good problem to have going into Spring Training. However, the Astros still need to figure out the best scenario for using this situation to their best advantage. It appears at this point, that Gattis and Conger will likely get the majority of playing time, with Castro offered as trade bait.