With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Spring Training in six weeks, it's time to begin dissecting the Astros 2015 roster. This is the first of a six-part Around the Horn series that will take a position-by-position look at the Astros' projected starters and backup options heading into next season. Up first: Catchers.
HOUSTON -- Veteran Jason Castro is in line to make his fifth consecutive Opening Day start for the Astros behind the plate this year and will enter the season as the club's longest-tenured position player.
Castro, who will be a free agent after this season, will split the catching duties in 2016 with Max Stassi, who appears set to take over the backup job following last year's trade of Hank Conger to the Rays. The Astros could still make a move to bring in a veteran catcher to compete with Stassi, but it appears he's got a strong shot to make the club.
"I would consider Castro and Stassi as the guys that are penciled in," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "We do have some other guys at the Minor League level that are going to be in big league camp that we like and we think could contribute up here. We have looked at what other options are available outside our organization and will continue to look at that, but we feel pretty good about that combination right now."
Castro, 28, hit a disappointing .211 last year with 11 homers and 31 RBIs. He started 102 games and excelled defensively, throwing out 24 of the 66 runners (36 percent) attempting to steal. That was the highest percentage by a Houston catcher since Brad Ausmus threw out 40 percent in 2001.
Castro, according to Baseball Prospectus, was also the AL's second-best pitch framer behind Tyler Flowers. As a result, Castro was a finalist for a Rawlings Gold Glove Award in the American League. The award went to Salvador Perez of the Royals for the third year in a row.
Meanwhile, Stassi will be looking to make an Opening Day roster for the first time. He played 11 games with the Astros last year and hit .400 (6-for-15) with a homer and two RBIs and has appeared in 21 games with the Astros over the past three years, hitting .357.
Stassi's offense has always lagged behind his stellar defense, and he hit only .211 last year at Triple-A. He'll have to adapt to playing once or twice a week behind Castro, whose career-high games played is 126 in 2014. The Astros maintain Evan Gattis, who caught with the Braves, will only have to catch in an emergency situation.
"I'm comfortable with the group, including guys that haven't reached the big leagues," said manager A.J. Hinch, a former catcher.
None of the Astros' Top 30 prospects as listed by MLB.com are catchers, but the club has some talented backstops at the upper levels of the Minor Leagues. Defensive whiz Roberto Pena and Tyler Heineman figure to be back in big league camp once again this year.