Hot take: 5 best catchers in Astros history

March 23rd, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans. With that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only. A Twitter poll indicates what the fans decided:

Here is Brian McTaggart’s ranking of the top five catchers in Astros history. Next week: The best at first base.

1) Brad Ausmus, 1997-98, 2001-08
Key fact: Caught most games in club history

Ausmus was traded from the Tigers to the Astros twice and wound up playing the majority of his 18-year career in Houston, where he was the starting catcher on five playoff teams (1997-98, 2001, ’04-05) and handled a star-studded pitching staff in 2004-05 that included Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt. Ausmus was known more for his defense, though, winning three Gold Gloves, including two (’01, ’06) with Houston, while hitting .246 with 41 homers and 386 RBIs over the course of his Astros tenure.

“I was a relatively tough out in terms of making the defense make the play,” Ausmus said. “I was a far cry from Barry Bonds.”

Still, Ausmus hit what, at the time, was one of the biggest home runs in club history, a game-tying shot in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 4 of the 2005 National League Division Series against the Braves. Lance Berkman had gotten the Astros to within a run in the eighth with a grand slam, and Ausmus forced extra innings when he took Kyle Farnsworth deep to left-center in the ninth. The Astros won, 7-6, in 18 innings on Chris Burke’s walk-off homer to punch their ticket to the NLCS.

“As far as personal moments go, it’s probably the highlight,” Ausmus said. “I would still say that going to the World Series [in 2005] overall was more fun, but if I had to pick one personal moment, that would be the one that stands out.”

Astros' Top 5: First basemen | Second basemen

2) Alan Ashby, 1979-89
Key fact: Most home runs (69) and RBIs (388) by a catcher in team history

Ashby, a switch-hitter, was a mainstay at catcher for a decade and had a front-row seat to many of the greatest moments in club history during the 1980s. He caught three no-hitters and hit a walk-off home run in the Astrodome off Dave Stewart to beat the rival Dodgers in Game 1 of the 1981 NLDS. He caught for 11 seasons in Houston and set a team record with 900 games behind the plate before Ausmus surpassed him in 2005.

Ashby was the starting catcher on Houston’s first two division-winning clubs in 1980 and ’86. He later served as a radio analyst for the club and a Minor League manager.

“I’m an Astro through and through,” he said.

In addition to being the man who was replaced at catcher by Craig Biggio, Ashby was in the first trade ever made by the Blue Jays, who acquired him in 1976 from Cleveland. The Blue Jays dealt him to Houston in '78 just as the Astros, behind J.R. Richard and Joe Niekro, were on the rise. In his second game with the Astros, he caught a no-hitter thrown by Ken Forsch. He caught Nolan Ryan’s record-breaking fifth no-hitter in 1981, which allowed Ryan to surpass Sandy Koufax. Growing up in Los Angeles, Ashby had seen two of Koufax’s four no-hitters in person. He was also behind the plate when Mike Scott threw a division-clinching no-hitter to beat the Giants in 1986 in the Astrodome.

3) Jason Castro, 2010-16
Key fact: 9.0 Baseball Reference Wins Above Replacement is highest in club history at catcher

A first-round pick of the Astros out of Stanford in 2008, Castro reached the big leagues in 2010 and promptly watched the franchise begin a dramatic rebuild that saw them lose 100 games three seasons in a row ('11-13). Though he missed the ’11 season after tearing his ACL, he was the starting catcher on a 107-loss team in ‘12 and a club-record 111-loss team in ’13, catching a lot of subpar pitching along the way.

Castro made the All-Star team in ’13 when he hit .276 with 18 homers and 56 RBIs and saw the rebuild through when the Astros reached the playoffs in ‘15, in manager AJ Hinch’s first year. He signed with the Twins after the ’16 season and watched the Astros win the World Series from afar the following year. Castro caught about half of Dallas Keuchel's starts during his ‘15 American League Cy Young Award-winning season and broke Lance McCullers Jr. into the Majors that year.

4) Tony Eusebio, 1991-01
Key fact: .729 OPS is highest in club history with at least 200 games caught

A stocky catcher who had a knack for putting the bat on the ball, Eusebio slashed .275/.346/.383 in 598 career games for the Astros, serving as the starter in 1995 and ’99 while backing up Ausmus in ’97-98 and 2001. During the strike-shortened ‘95 season, he hit .299 with 58 RBIs in 113 games and won the starting job over veteran Scott Servais. In 2000, Eusebio set the Astros' record for consecutive games with a hit with 24. Because he didn’t play every game, Eusebio’s record streak stretched a span of 51 days, during which the Astros played 45 games.

5) Johnny Edwards, 1969-74
Key fact: Ranks third all-time in club history with 634 career games caught

An All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner with the Reds, Edwards was traded by the Cardinals to the Astros prior to the 1969 season for Dave Adlesh and Dave Giusti. Edwards slashed .237/.319/.336 in six years with the Astros, appearing in a franchise-record 151 games at catcher in 1969 and 139 more in ’70. Known for his defensive prowess, he threw out 48 percent of stolen base attempts in ’69.

Honorable mentions
• Joe Ferguson hit 15 homers with 55 RBIs and an .819 OPS for the Astros in 119 games at catcher in 1977.
• John Bateman (1963-68) hit 16 homers as a catcher in '66, a club single-season record that stood until Castro tied it in in 2013.
• Brian McCann anchored the pitching staff for the '17 World Series champions, catching nearly every inning in the playoffs.
• Biggio played the first four seasons of his career at catcher, winning a Silver Slugger and making the All-Star team at the position in 1991, before moving to second base. We kept him off the catchers’ list for the purposes of this exercise because his career was played mostly at second base.