Astros position breakdown: catcher
Every few days for the next two weeks, I’m going to take an in-depth, position-by-postion look at the Astros. What went wrong/right last year? Where do they stand at that position? Who do they have coming up that could make an impact? What does the immediate future hold at that position?
This should help us get through the World Series and into free agency, which begins five days after the end of the Fall Classic. Last year at this time, we were writing about who the Astros were going to hire as manager, so things are much quieter this time around. So let’s jump right in and take a look at our first position breakdown of the offseason: catcher.
2010 Opening Day starter: J.R. Towles
2010 end-of-season starter: Jason Castro
Others who were in the mix: Humberto Quintero, Kevin Cash
Combined stats of Astros catchers: .220 BA/.269 OBP/.312 SLG, 22 doubles, 9 homers, 39 RBIs, 35 walks, 122 strikeouts, 551 at-bats.
Free agents: None
Arbitration eligible: Quintero
What happened: The Astros have struggled to find offense at catcher for more than a decade, which was one of the reasons they drafted Jason Castro with the No. 10 overall pick in 2008. He wasn’t going to get confused with Johnny Bench on offense, but the club believes he can be a good offensive player and is already capable of catching at the Major League level.
Still, the season begin with Castro getting his first taste at Triple-A Round Rock and J.R. Towles as the starter with Humberto Quintero backing him up. Towles, in what might have been his last chance in the organization, struggled to hit and was optioned to Double-A on May 5. He wound up getting injured and missing much of the second half.
The Astros were desperate for catching help and called up Kevin Cash, who provided little offense but was a veteran presence behind the plate. All the while, Quintero was hitting his typical .230 and throwing our runners on bases. He also caught Brett Myers, who had his best season in his debut with the Astros.
With the season slipping away, the Astros finally summoned Castro from Triple-A Round Rock on June 22 to began a youth infusion. Castro was plugged into the starting lineup and hit .205/.286/.287 with two homers and eight RBIs in 67 games (57 starts). He still has strides to make defensively, though he did throw out 37 percent of the runners who tried to steal a base against him.
What’s next: The Astros are still committed to Castro. He’s only 23 years old and there’s no reason to believe he won’t get better with age. But don’t be surprised to the see the club perhaps bring in a low-cost veteran to take over behind the plate if Castro just isn’t ready on Opening Day. Among the free agents who could fit that bill are Gregg Zaun, Matt Treanor and Josh Bard or similiar-type players in age (older), ability (declining) and salary (cheap). Unless the Astros don’t tender him a contract, Quintero appears poised to return as the back up yet again.
Who’s on the farm: Ben Heath, taken in the fifth round in the 2010 Draft out of Penn State, had a solid debut and finished the year with a cup of coffee at Double-A Corpus Christi. He hit a combined .276/.387/.495 with 10 homers and 38 RBIs in 210 at-bats between short-season Tri-City and Class A Lexington, spending 37 games at the New York-Penn League and 20 games in the South Atlantic League. Venezuelan switch-hitter Federico Hernandez hit a combined .273/.303/.429 last season between Class A Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi. Farther away, 2010 Draft pick Chris Wallace hit a combined .293 with 10 homers and 40 RBIs between rookie-league Greeneville and Tri-City. Jonathan Fixler and Lou Santangelo saw time at Corpus Christi last year, too.
In summary: Castro is the man of the future, but if he winds up not being able to cut it, the Astros seem to have a wave a younger catchers on the rise in the Minors for the first time in years.