Korey Lee should begin the season with the big-league club
Debate has raged all offseason on which Astros prospect should fill the backup catcher spot: Korey Lee or Yainer Diaz. With Cristian Vazquez now in Minnesota and Martín Maldonado another year older, there are plenty of innings to be had behind the plate in 2023. At this point in Spring Training, it appears Lee has the edge to begin the season on the Opening Day roster.
The Astros first pick in 2019, Lee has raked this Spring, hitting .375 with a 1.286 OPS. Lee struggled a bit upon his big league debut, but his performance this Spring has been more consistent with the hitter he displayed in the minor leagues. His competition, Yainer Diez, has a bright big league future ahead of him, but could benefit from playing every day and continuing to develop both at the plate and in the field. Diaz is hitting .300 with an .850 OPS this Spring.
Lee has gotten some work in at first base this Spring, and even made his debut at the position yesterday, playing the final three innings on the corner. His work behind the plate has been most promising however.
Hunter Brown struggled mightily in his first two starts of the Spring, but was paired with his AAA battery mate in Lee for his third start. Brown responded with his best start of the Spring, throwing three scoreless, hitless and walkless innings. The Astros are going to be heavily reliant on Brown this season, especially with Lance McCullers Jr. beginning the season on IL. If the Astros top prospect feels comfortable throwing to Lee, all the more reason for Lee to begin the year on the big league club.
Both Korey Lee and Yainer Diaz have bright futures, and likely behind the plate in Houston. It is easy to envision the two splitting time behind the plate for years to come after Maldy hangs up his cleats. Lee would benefit most from a year learning under Maldonado while Diaz gets everyday at-bats and improves his blocking ability. When the Astros take the field in two weeks for Opening Day, Korey Lee should be the second catcher.