WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Unless there are injuries this spring, it appears there will be only one spot available for a position player to make the Astros' roster when the regular season starts. The decision for manager A.J. Hinch will come down to carrying a third catcher or an extra infielder/outfielder, such as Tyler White or Tony Kemp.
Veteran Brian McCann returns as the starter, with Evan Gattis again slotted as his backup, but a third catcher would give freedom for McCann and Gattis to be the designated hitter more and help preserve their health. The strides made by Max Stassi at the plate have made him a viable candidate to crack the Opening Day roster as a third catcher.
"It's a tough season, and you're always conscious of injuries, so having one more guy in there at the beginning of the season is a consideration because of how it could ease the workload of the two primary guys, but also enhance how I use the roster in general," Hinch said.
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The Astros have six catchers in camp: McCann and Gattis, who will make the club; Stassi and Tim Federowicz, who are battling to make the club; and prospects Jamie Ritchie and Garrett Stubbs, who are soaking up as much information as they can from the vets.
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"[Stassi's] out of options, which is going to create some stress for us to try to make a decision on him," Hinch said. "He and Federowicz are the two guys who are ahead of the other two guys, but that will be a healthy competition."
Stassi, 26, has appeared in 44 career games over the last five seasons with the Astros and got a career-high 24 big league at-bats last year, going 4-for-24 with two homers and four RBIs. He also drew six walks in 31 plate appearances and struck out only four times. In 73 games at Triple-A Fresno in 2017, Stassi hit .266 with 12 homers and 33 RBIs.
"I feel I had a decent year in Triple-A and when I got called up, I was swinging it pretty good," Stassi said. "I'm going to approach it like any other spring. I was very well prepared going into this year and very excited for this opportunity. It's everything you could wish for, and it's good to be in the discussion, but I know my performance is what's going to dictate it."
Stassi credits hitting coaches Dave Hudgens and Jeff Albert with helping him rework his swing this offseason. He said the work he's done with Albert over the past couple of years has helped save his career.
"I honestly don't know where I'd be without that guy," he said. "He's going to take no credit for it, but I give him all the credit. He's been a big, huge part of my career and I'm excited to work with him this spring and hopefully take it from there."
Hinch, a former big league catcher, likes what Stassi can bring to the plate as well, though his offense will dictate his future.
"I know catcher framing has been more and more popular over the last couple of years, and the adjustments he's made with his swing have produced a little bit more power and his plate discipline and swing decisions have been a little bit better in the last year or two," Hinch said.