Remember when backup catcher was a major issue for the Astros?
Hard to believe that not too long ago that the Astros were relying on Erik Kratz to log quite a few innings as the backup catcher. Of course, that isn’t a knock on Kratz as a person. But the Astros had a glaring hole at backup catcher, and Kratz just wasn’t the answer.
Some of us believed that Max Stassi would, or should, be given a shot behind the plate for the Astros again. But the Astros decided against that idea. Instead, the organization brain trust decided to give Evan Gattis a look behind the plate. And it was a toss up whether it would end well or not. So far it has been more on the well side than not.
Way back when the Astros acquired Gattis two offseasons ago, the general consensus was that “El Oso Blanco” would take over full time designated hitter duties. There were even thoughts that he could step in as the emergency catcher, if necessary. We did see the full time DH role come to fruition, but we did not see Gattis behind the plate as a catcher at all last season.
Flash forward a year though, and one can argue that the Astros are even deeper than before with Gattis splitting catcher duties with incumbent starter Jason Castro. In essence, what was once a position of great worry has become, at the very least, slightly less pressing to address in the immediate future.
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Since being recalled from Double-A following his stint to readjust as a catcher once again, Gattis has proved to be a valuable player in terms of production with the bat and roster flexibility. In just 35 at-bats as catcher, Gattis has smashed five home runs compared to four home runs in 99 at-bats as the DH. In fact, his batting average as a catcher this season currently sits at .343 compared to .202 as the designated hitter. The small sample size should be taken into consideration, but interesting nonetheless.
The biggest point of worry with Gattis catching part time is his defense. But that should only improve in time. While he isn’t a tremendous defensive force behind the plate, Gattis clearly isn’t the worst. And don’t forget that he can draw upon his experiences catching for the Atlanta Braves to help compensate for any rust that he is still shaking off.
Eight games as the catcher this season Gattis has accumulated a 0.4 RAA, which is not bad. That is better than last season’s backup catcher, Hank Conger. But Gattis clearly hasn’t caught enough for much for a determination one way or the other to be made. And let’s be honest, Castro’s defense is still preferred over Gattis’ defense. Castros can still block balls in the dirt and provides a better arm behind the dish than Gattis.
At the end of the day though, Gattis’ effectiveness will be determined on his ability to stay a productive member of the lineup and an ability to provide adequate defense behind the plate. Unlike Castro, Gattis’ bat will carry his glove. But the flexibility that Gattis affords the Astros when he is catching and playing well overall is undeniable.
**Statistics provided by Fangraphs and Statcorner**