10. Saying goodbye to Tal’s Hill.
Maybe this is not a positive for many Astros fans who appreciated the unique hill in centerfield. Many fans have been over it for a while, so they rejoiced when the hill went away. I talked to Astros historian Mike Acosta about what the renovations could mean for Houston Astros fans. He told me that it would give fans a new location to watch the game from and will change the look of the ballpark in general.
When you walk into the ballpark come opening day, it will appear to be a new stadium. This will also be the case for the players as well, with the centerfield wall moving in 27 feet. The players will have to learn how to play the ball off the ivy and new walls. Hinch talked about the change on Talking Stros. He felt that it may favor the hitters at first, but the pitchers will make the adjustment to keep the ball in the park.
While we say goodbye to the hill, we will say hi to our new centerfielder, George Springer. With the hill, they may have been hesitant to put Springer in center field. Springer is one of the key players on the Astros, why risk him injuring himself while Climbing Tal’s Hill? The hill will be missed, but I think we will be pleased with the finished product.
9. Gattis bolsters the catching depth
Going into the 2016 season after trading Hank Conger, the Houston Astros did not have a backup catcher. They were after several free agent targets but fell short, and they needed a warm body to backup Jason Castro. The plan was to get Evan Gattis back into the backup catcher role that he had with the Atlanta Braves, but an injury slowed him during spring training. The Astros acquired Erik Kratz to serve as the backup catcher, but that was a disaster.
Because the Astros got off to such a bad start in April, they recalled Gattis to try to add some pop to the lineup. While Kratz was still struggling at the plate, they needed another option as a backup. If only they had left Gattis down in Double-A to work on his catching skills again. Bregman, who was at Double-A at the time, spoke about Gattis on Talking Stros. He told us that Gattis looks like a natural catcher behind the plate and that we will be impressed.
It turns out that Gattis is at least an average behind the plate. One thing that was unusual about Gattis as a catcher he hits better than as a designated hitter. Gattis batted .295 as the catcher last year with an OPS of .992. He hit more homers as a catcher than as DH, 19/13, in fewer at-bats. The front office felt comfortable enough to let Gattis be the backup catcher, and the two combined for a great finish to the 2016 season.
With Jake Rogers and Garrett Stubbs still needing more time to develop, Gattis was able to stall a little. The Astros added McCann this year, but Gattis’ power bat will still be felt as the backup catcher.