The Astros are promoting catching prospect Korey Lee to make his major league debut, as was first reported by Mark Berman of Fox 26 (on Twitter). Backup catcher Jason Castro is headed to the 10-day injured list with left knee discomfort. To clear space for Lee on the 40-man roster, lefty reliever Blake Taylor is being transferred from the 15-day to the 60-day IL.
Lee is a former supplemental first-rounder, having been taken 32nd overall in the 2019 draft. A Cal-Berkeley product, he hadn’t been seen by many public prospect evaluators as a first-round talent at the time. Houston’s decision to nab him early looks strong in retrospect, as Lee has played his way to the majors a little less than three years later.
The righty-hitting backstop has also raised his stock in the eyes of most evaluators. Each of Baseball America and FanGraphs placed him among the game’s top 100 overall prospects heading into the season. Kiley McDaniel of ESPN and Keith Law of the Athletic each placed him just outside their top 100 and ranked him among the three best farmhands in the Houston system.
Across the board, those outlets suggested Lee could develop into a capable #1 catcher at his peak. His carrying tool is an arm that garners grades between plus and plus-plus (a 60 or 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale), and he’s generally regarded as a solid or better overall defender. Lee’s bat is more of a question, as he’s struggled against upper level pitching after mashing in the low minors.
The 2022 season has been particularly challenging, as Lee carries only a .226/.285/.419 line with ten home runs through 270 plate appearances at Triple-A Sugar Land. He’s flashed some power, with a .194 ISO (slugging percentage minus batting average) that’s north of the league average, but he’s only walked in 6.7% of his plate appearances against an elevated 27% strikeout rate.
Given those struggles against upper minors pitching, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Lee eventually optioned back to Sugar Land. The Astros have long placed a premium on defense behind the plate, though, as evidenced by their commitment to the light-hitting Martín Maldonado in recent years. Maldonado will remain the primary option, while Lee will take Castro’s spot as his backup while the latter is out. Houston would’ve had to add Lee to the 40-man roster at the end of this season anyhow to keep him from being taken in next winter’s Rule 5 draft.
Taylor, meanwhile, has been out since June 4 with discomfort in his throwing elbow. There’s no clear timetable for his return, and he’ll now be ineligible to pitch in the majors until the first week of August. Injuries to Taylor and Parker Mushinski have left manager Dusty Baker to handle an all right-handed bullpen at times, and it stands to reason the front office will look into acquiring a southpaw over the next few weeks.