The defending champion Astros could be set to go with internal options alongside veteran Martin Maldonado behind the plate. As a report from Brian McTaggart of MLB.com suggests, the Astros had looked into the possibility of bringing in an external backstop to replace the retired Jason Castro and departed Christian Vazquez, but now may just let one of their young catchers backup Maldonado.
With the popular Maldonado the team’s top backstop, prospects Korey Lee and Yainer Diaz could battle it out in the spring for the big league backup job. Lee was the team’s first round pick back in 2019 and made it onto Baseball America’s Top 100 list before last season. He got some time in the big leagues last year, going 4-for-25 in 12 games. Lee mashed 25 homers on the way to a .238/.307/.483 line at Triple-A, where he spent the bulk of the 2022 season.
Diaz, 24, is known for his big bat and slashed .306/.356/.542 with 25 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A last season, his first with the Astros after coming over in the Myles Straw deal with Cleveland. Diaz, too, got a callup to the big leagues last season, picking up a double and a walk in nine plate appearances. While both Lee and Diaz have upside, McTaggart speculates that Diaz’ bat could give him the edge over Lee initially, as the team could play him at DH and first-base as well.
Here’s some other bits and pieces from the Astros:
- Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle relays that the expectation is that Michael Brantley will be ready for Opening Day. The Astros re-signed Brantley to a one-year, $12MM deal just before Christmas. The 35-year-old was a productive hitter for the Astros last year, slashing .288/.370/.416 before going on the injured list in late June with a shoulder injury that eventually required surgery. Brantley is no stranger to injury problems, but has been a highly effective hitter when fit, as evidenced by his .306/.365/.462 line since 2017. The Astros will hope he can return fully fit in 2023 and provide more valuable offense as they look to defend their title.
- Astros great and front office member Jeff Bagwell offered some insight into whether or not the team has any interest in bringing back Yuli Gurriel. The 38-year-old is a free agent after playing seven seasons with the Astros. He had some strong seasons in Houston, but his production dipped last year and he wound up hitting just .242/.288/.360 with eight home runs over 584 plate appearances. The Marlins are the only reported team to have made contact with Gurriel, but it seems the Astros aren’t closing the door on bringing him back. “There’s nobody that loves Yuli more than us, myself, Jim (Crane), Dusty (Baker), everybody. It’s just trying to find the right fit for the club. He’s a huge part of our success here. We’ll continue to monitor that situation,” Bagwell said (via McTaggart).