Houston Astros: Power Ranking the Team's Top 5 Catching Prospects
Identifying the five best catching prospects in the Houston Astros’ system is like deciding which Jersey Shore cast member to invite to your niece’s Christening. It’s a quandary, really*. Your options are pretty bad across the board.
Scouring the Houston system for promising catchers wasn’t easy; in fact, it was darn near impossible. Truth be told, I was tempted to just start and end this list with the words “Craig" and "Biggio” and hope everyone reading was 45 or older. Fortunately, my better judgment won out; the last thing I need is all 12 Astro’s fans mad at me**. I’ve never messed with Texas, and believe me, I don’t plan on starting now.
But seriously, as Astros fans flock to the ‘net in need of baseball info, it’s our job at Bleacher Report to try our best to make the best of a bad situation, so I’ve compiled a list of the five most promising catching prospects in the Houston system.
Proceed with caution: you’re about to miss Brad Ausmus more than you ever thought you could.
* Author’s note No. 1: Any Jersey Shore aficionado knows the clear answer to this question is Vinny. If a question is ever aimed at determining which of the Seaside gorillas is the most normal, acceptable, or redeemable, the answer is always Vinny.
** Author’s note No. 2: Kidddingggggg…
5. Federico Hernandez
We’ll lead things off with Federico Hernandez. Signed by the Astros in 2006 as a non-drafted free agent, Hernandez has shown decent improvement across several levels of Houston’s farm system.
Hernandez won’t get the publicity of some of the other highly-drafted prospects on this list, but after hitting .304 in 56 at-bats following a promotion to AA Corpus Christi, management has to be pleased with the 23 year-old’s progress.
While not a threat to knock the fences down (9 homers in 2010), Hernandez should provide solid depth at the position as he ascends the ranks.
4. Roberto Pena
When the Astros drafted Roberto Pena in the 7th round last year, they had to have been thinking one of two things: a) that he would somehow discover what that wooden thing in his hand was for, or b) that he was actually Robert “Baby” Pena, the slugger from the 60’s.
Turns out, neither scenario seems to be accurate.
The Pena they drafted hit a paltry .227 in his debut professional season, and “Baby” Pena is, well, a player from the ‘60’s (whose best season was highlighted by a .260 BA.)
Pena’s 2010 season was underwhelming, but couldn’t have come as much of a surprise to Houston execs. The good news? Pena is a stud behind the dish. However, unless he can somehow convince Bud Selig to institute the “designated fielder”, Pena will most likely spend a few more years taking buses instead of planes.
3. Chris Wallace
Everyone wants Chris Wallace to succeed. Even me, and I’m not even an Astros fan.
Drafted in the the 16th round last year out of the University of Houston, Wallace, 22, grew up a ‘Stros fan and can’t wait to hit the show for his favorite team.
Houston selected three catchers in the 2010 draft, including the subject of the next slide, Ben Heath. What that means is there looks to be a three-horse race (at least) of young, hungry backstops ready to start for Houston in 2014.
Wallace won’t be the favorite to win the job, but he’ll have fan support. Of course, hitting .293 (including .310 at Rookie League Greeneville) in his first pro season won’t hurt his cause.
2. Ben Heath
Every now and then, a prospect comes along who seems to elevate his play with every promotion he gets. Ben Heath has been one of those prospects thus far.
The first catcher drafted by the ‘Stro’s in 2010, Heath was an acclaimed athlete for Penn State, and evidently brought that skill set with him to Houston.
At his first pro stop (Tri-City), Heath hit .248 with a .823 OPS. After 37 games, he was promoted to high-A Lexington, where he proceeded to hit .290, with an OPS of .955. Finally, as a closing act, Heath handled his second promotion of the year (this time to AA Corpus Christi) with aplomb, recording a BA of .500 in four games.
I’m no mathematician, but at this rate Heath, 22, will be negotiating a 10-year deal with the Yankees by his 27th birthday.
Despite defensive deficiencies, Heath would be this list’s shining star, if not for…
1. Jason Castro
How’s this for a deal, Astros fans? We’re gonna’ take Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman, Miguel Tejada, and your family dog. In exchange (drum roll please…)? JASON CASTROOOO! (No, not the guy from American Idol.)
A few years ago, some fans in Houston may have been fine with this trade. After all, the Big Puma’s not getting any younger, Oswalt can’t carry a team by himself, and Fido always poops on the rug.
Today? Let’s just say the proposition doesn’t seem so tantalizing.
Still only 23, Castro was drafted 10th overall in the 2008 and proceeded to knock the stitching out of the ball for the next couple years. However, after hitting the Majors last season (67 games) Castro came face to face with the harsh reality of the Show, hitting .205 with two homers in 185 at-bats.
Along with the promising Brett Wallace, the Astros hope Jason Castro will quickly right his ship, shake off the initial jitters, and become one of the faces of the franchise.
The good news for Castro? They’ll probably give him all the time he needs. As discussed, it’s not like the next Johnny Bench is waiting in Triple-A.
Look for Castro to begin the 2011 season as the ‘Stros starting catcher. But not to worry: if he continues to struggle, I hear Brad Ausmus is looking for a job.