How The Astros Should Approach Their Catcher Logjam


As the 2014 Astros season came to a close, the team had three MLB-ready catchers in Jason Castro, Carlos Corporan, and Max Stassi. It was apparent that Castro would be the 2015 Opening Day starter with either Corporan or Stassi backing him up, with the other most likely being traded sometime in the offseason.

However, with the addition of Hank Conger, Jeff Luhnow made the situation more interesting. Conger, who will be 27 by Opening Day, hasn’t necessarily impressed anyone with his bat. He’s only a career .224 hitter in 768 at bats. Hopefully, Conger’s minor league numbers can start to translate to the big leagues, as he was consistently a .300 hitter throughout every minor league level.

August 22, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels catcher Hank Conger (24) throws the baseball during the first inning against the Oakland Athletics at Coliseum. The Athletics defeated the Angels 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Conger is more well-known for his ultra-effective pitch framing, which should make him a nice backstop for Astros pitchers both young and old even if he never eclipses a .250 batting average. Because of this acquisition, Luhnow now has many options when it comes to the catcher position.

Instead of automatically slotting Castro into the starter’s role, he can be flipped for other pieces. On a numbers driven team, Conger may provide a significant enough value to be the starter. It may also be apparent that Conger only needs consistent playing time to put his hitting approach together and start to produce.

Although Castro is coming off a down season where he only hit .222 with 14 home runs, he has definite value and would bring back useful pieces to an improving club. However, because of his 2014 stats, Castro’s trade value is probably less than his actual value to the Astros. If he can return to his 2013 form, where he hit .276 with 18 home runs, trading him now would be a big mistake if the return is reflective of his 2014 output. It’s also unlikely that a team will offer an enticing enough package that would convince Luhnow to move Castro, as I’m sure his price is high despite his poor 2014 season. But if he does decide to make Conger the starter, the backup role would likely go to Stassi with Corporan being moved for an MLB-ready bullpen piece.

Another realistic possibility is that Castro stays in the starting role with Conger backing him up. This keeps the two most productive catchers on the team while still trading Corporan for a bullpen piece. Stassi would likely be kept down in AAA for now if he isn’t traded, too. The Astros need more offense, and this is the option that maximizes the offensive production from the catcher position. However, a possible downside to this setup is that both catchers struggle against lefties. In past game situations, Corporan would occasionally come in against lefties, as his batting average against them is almost 30 points higher than against righties.

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Max Stassi’s future will need to be decided upon this offseason, as well. If Castro is traded, Stassi will probably be the backup catcher. However, if Castro stays in Houston, Stassi won’t have a major league job with the Astros going into the 2015 season.

After exploding onto the scene in 2013, Stassi only hit .247 in AAA in 2014. It’s possible that he will repeat AAA again. Since he’s on the 40 man roster, Luhnow does not need to worry about him being taken in the Rule 5 draft. This may also be used to the Astros’ advantage, though, as it’s possible that he could be involved in a trade for a major league piece that would free up a spot on the 40 man roster. Stassi could also be traded mid-season in 2015 to a team looking for catching depth.

Overall, the Astros are a team on the upswing. Any moves that Jeff Luhnow makes are going to be geared towards improving now rather than later. Considering this…

My prediction:

  • Jason Castro remains the starting catcher going into 2015
  • Hank Conger will be Castro’s backup
  • Carlos Corporan and David Rollins traded to the St Louis Cardinals for Seth Maness
  • Max Stassi starts in AAA in 2015, traded by July 31

How do you think the Astros should handle their catcher logjam?