Why Astros' catchers could orchestrate historic offensive season

December 13th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Brian McTaggart’s Astros Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

When it comes to next year’s offense, the Astros should be in position to have their most potent production from the catching position in a long time. Maybe even in the franchise’s entire history.

The Astros have never had an offensive force behind the plate like Johnny Bench, Mike Piazza or Buster Posey … or anything really close. In fact, the Astros have had only four catchers in the franchise’s history post an OPS of .800 or higher for the season (minimum 350 plate appearances) – Mitch Meluskey (.905) in 2000, Jason Castro (.884) in 2013, Alan Ashby (.829) in 1987 and Joe Ferguson (.819) in 1977.

That figures to change in 2024 when takes over as the team’s starter. In 377 plate appearances last season (including 187 at catcher and 146 as designated hitter), Diaz slashed .282/.308/.538 (.846 OPS) with 23 homers and 60 RBIs. His 14 homers from the catching position tied Meluskey for the club’s rookie record.

Last week, the Astros signed veteran Victor Caratini to back up Diaz. As the primary backup to William Contreras in Milwaukee in 2023, the 30-year-old Puerto Rican hit .259 with seven home runs, 25 RBIs and a .711 OPS.

“I like the fact that he had a lot of [service] time. He's a switch-hitter, he can really frame and block, and there's some upside with the bat,” said Astros general manager Dana Brown. “I thought that this would complement Diaz very well. On days we want to give Diaz a breather, we can do that and feel good about it.

“Also, there'll be days where, let's say, Diaz slides into second or something, and who knows, tweaks his ankle, and has to sit out for four or five days. [Caratini] … is not like a typical backup. He's a little bit better than the backup.”

With that in mind, here are the top five offensive catching seasons in club history:

1. 2000 (.856 OPS): Meluskey, acquired by the Astros from Cleveland in a minor trade in 1995, played in 19 big league games in ‘98 and ‘99 before taking over as the team’s starting catcher in ‘00. He hit .300/.401/.487 with 14 homers and 69 RBIs and finished fifth in National League Rookie of the Year voting, but he butted heads with some veterans and was dealt to the Tigers following that season. Brad Ausmus, who was Houston’s starter in ‘97 and ‘98, came back in that trade and became the team’s starting catcher once again. The Astros also got an .820 OPS in 2000 out of backup Tony Eusebio, including a 24-game hitting streak in a span of 50 days.

2. 2017 (.786 OPS): The Astros traded for veteran Brian McCann prior to the 2017 season and he became an integral part of the club’s 2017 World Series championship team, slashing .241/.323/.436 with 18 homers and 62 RBIs in the regular season. Evan Gattis (.767 OPS, 12 homers) and Juan Centeno (.632 OPS) split the backup duties and combined with Max Stassi to hit 33 home runs from the catching position.

3. 1985 (.780 OPS): Alan Ashby, who is second to Ausmus in most games caught in Astros history, lost his starting job in 1985 to a 23-year-old prospect named Mark Bailey. He slashed .265/.389/.398 with 10 homers and 45 RBIs in 144 games, with Ashby contributing an .813 OPS and eight homers in 65 games. Ashby recaptured his starting job in ‘86 and helped the Astros to the AL West division title. Ashby was eventually replaced at catcher in ‘89 by a hotshot rookie named Craig Biggio, who later moved to second base and carved out a Hall of Fame career.

4. 1977 (.771 OPS): Ferguson slashed .257/.379/.435 overall with 16 homers and 61 RBIs in 1977, with Ed Herrmann (.707) chipping in. Ferguson played the first 6 1/2 seasons of his career with the Dodgers and came to the Astros prior to the 1977 season in the trade that sent Larry Dierker to St. Louis. The Dodgers re-acquired Ferguson during the 1978 season and he helped them reach the World Series.

5. 2013 (.766 OPS): The Astros lost a club-record 111 games in 2013 but had a bright spot behind the plate in Castro. A former first-round pick by Houston, Castro missed the 2011 season following a serious knee injury but had the best career season in 2013, slashing .276/.350/.485 with 18 homers and 56 RBIs. Carlos Corporán served as his primary backup and posted a .648 OPS in 64 games.