CLEARWATER, Fla. -- With Max Stassi set to start the year on the disabled list following surgery to remove the hook on top of his left hamate bone, the Astros are searching for outside catching options. Beyond starter Jason Castro, the Astros have Minor Leaguer catchers Roberto Pena and Tyler Heineman remaining in camp.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch said the team would be comfortable with either Pena or Heineman as the backup entering the season, but he admitted they're exploring external options. More catchers will be available on the market as the spring draws to a close and more rosters are trimmed.
"The one thing about the catcher position is anything can happen," said Hinch, a former big league catcher. "Any given day, you're one foul tip away from needing more depth, or if you have that depth, you want to keep that depth. It's a tough positon to fill until the very last minute when you're team is shaped and so is everybody else's."
Tigers catcher Bryan Holaday is on the trading block, and the Astros had a scout looking at him earlier in camp. J.P. Arencibia of the Phillies and Tim Federowicz of the Cubs could be available if they don't make their team's respective big league roster. Chris Gimenez, Bobby Wilson and Michael McKenry are battling for one job as the Rangers' backup.
Other possibilities include the Yankees' Austin Romine, who is out of options, and former Astros backup catcher Carlos Corporan, who has an out in his contract with the Yankees later this month. Ryan Hanigan could become available if the Red Sox deem Christian Vazquez (Tommy John surgery) healthy enough to start the season on the active roster.
The Astros were banking on Evan Gattis getting back behind the plate this spring, but his February hernia surgery has derailed those plans. Gattis is only now getting at-bats in Minor League games and isn't scheduled to play any Grapefruit League games at this point.
Hinch said the Astros will have to decide at some point whether to activate Gattis as designated hitter or wait until they can get him some time in the Minor Leagues behind the plate.
"The biggest issue with him as the sole backup catcher at this point is there's no rehab component in the big leagues," Hinch sad. "I can't protect him the day after he catches nine innings where a foul tip goes off of Castro's foot and something happens and he has to come out of the game. He has to be able to go at a moment's notice.
"We won't know that unless we prepare him that way. His bat and his ability to run the bases is going to be ahead of his squatting, blocking and throwing and things like that. At some point we're going to have to decide to give him a few extra reps as a catcher or whether we're going to activate him in the big leagues as the primary DH."