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March 7, 2011

BP Unfiltered

Houston's Backstop Problem

by R.J. Anderson

Resident injury analysts Corey Dawkins and Marc Normandin wrote about Jason Castro’s torn meniscus in vivid detail on Friday before the specifics of the injury were available. The world has since learned that Castro will miss the season with a severe ACL torn. Chalk this one up as a disappointment. The former first round pick appeared likely to enter the regular season as the starter for the first time in his young career. Now, he's looking at an extended road to recovery that will claim his opportunity.

Without Castro, the Astros have to decide whether acquiring a new backstop is worth their time. The in-house options for Brad Mills to call upon are Humberto Quintero and J.R. Towles, neither of whom is the ideal solution at starter. Quintero excels at defense –and not just on the basis of Nichols Law—, with perennially strong caught stealing rates. Catching and throwing are an important part of any catcher’s game and Quintero masters them, unfortunately, this comes at the cost of any worthwhile offensive skill. Towles’ minor league track record has yet to translate over and at this point who knows if it will, although PECOTA does seem optimistic with a .250 projected TAv.

If Ed Wade becomes ambitious –and indications are he may— then Jesus Flores of the Nationals could be the Astros’ Opening Day catcher. At 26, Flores has witnessed a little over a season’s worth of plate appearances while hitting .260/.313/.406, good for a .253 TAv (the league-average catcher had a .256 TAv last season). The pop is impressive and genuine if the scouting reports about Flores are to be believed, however his plate discipline could use some work, as he’s struck out 112 more times than he’s walked and holds a career 0.26 walk-to-strikeout ratio.  

Flores’ tenure in Washington never got started. After snagging Flores from the Mets in the Rule 5 draft, the Nats sat him behind Paul Lo Duca so he could learn the ropes at the game's highest level. They then returned him to the minors while employing the likes of Lo Duca and Johnny Estrada instead. Wouldn't you know it, the first chance Flores had to grasp the starter's job and he tore his labrum after hitting like a star in a tiny sample. He spent the 2010 season getting his shoulder healthy and now finds Ivan Rodriguez and Wilson Ramos ahead on the depth chart while Derek Norris is in pursuit.

No longer a piece of the Nats' future puzzle, Flores would be be joining an organization who also has a long-term option at catcher in tow. A healthy and hitting Flores could prove to be interesting trade bait at season’s end or, as Christina Kahrl mentioned to me, might knock Brett Wallace out of first base reps come 2012 should the Walrus remain overmatched at the plate. In the meantime, Flores should represent an upgrade over the known horrors present in the Astros’ clubhouse, thus creating some –if only a small piece—of solace for the Astros’ faithful hoping to see a backstop with upside this season.

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

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Prospectus Q&A: The MI... (03/07)
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