2014 MLB Prospect Review: Max Stassi, Houston Astros

USA TODAY Sports

The Astros promoted Max Stassi to the majors straight from AA in August of last year. Can he contribute for the Astros this season, and what could he be for fantasy owners when he does play?

We've already begun our encompassing look at the catcher position with the release of our consensus top 30 catchers for the 2014 season. We will not be releasing a top prospect list by position this year, so there is no list of top 20 catching prospects coming, for the simple reason that ranking them for position isn't likely to help a lot of fantasy owners. Instead, as a part of each position, the prospect staff will look at a few prospects at each position who could potentially have an impact during the 2014 season. First up with that in mind is Astros' catching prospect Max Stassi.

The Basics

Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Height: 5'11"
Weight: 205 lbs.
On 40-Man Roster: Yes
Options Remaining: 3
DOB: 3/15/1991 (Age 23 season)

His History

Stassi was a 4th round draft pick by the Athletics back in 2009 out of Yuba City HS, north of Sacramento, CA. He had been viewed as a first round talent, but was considered a tough sign due to his price tag. The A's gave him a bonus of $1.5 million to get him into the organization, the highest ever for a 4th round pick at the time. He appeared in just 14 games that year between the A's rookie league affiliate in Arizona and their short-season team in Vancouver.

The team sent him to full-season Low-A for the 2010 season, where he hit .229 with 13 home runs in 110 games, and promoted him to High-A for the 2011 season. Unfortunately, injuries to his throwing shoulder (and ultimately surgery) limited him to just 31 games that year, and none behind the plate at all. He returned to Stockton for the 2012 season, and while he was limited still (appeared in just 84 games), Stassi rebounded with a .268 average and 15 home runs in the offensively-inflated Cal League.

The A's included Stassi in the trade that sent slugging first baseman Chris Carter and starting pitcher Brad Peacock to the Astros for infielder Jed Lowrie, and his new team moved him up to AA for the 2013 season. He ended up needing sports hernia surgery during Spring Training, delaying his 2013 debut until early May. He appeared in 76 games from then on, hitting 17 home runs with a .277 batting average before being called up to the majors. Unfortunately, his debut was very unique, as he went 2-for-3 in his first game, but earned his first career RBI in the second game on a hit-by-pitch he took off his shoulder and face. The resulting concussion knocked him out for nearly a month, but he was able to return for one more appearance in the last week of the season.

The Scouting Report

Stassi's defense has always been the start of his scouting report, as he has been considered an advanced defender since being drafted in 2009. As a result, his offensive profile has lagged behind to some extent. Stassi's calling card on the offensive side is going to be his power, as he has the potential to hit 15-20 home runs in a full season of playing time. As with nearly all catchers, speed is a complete non-factor, as he is unlikely to provide even token stolen bases. There are questions about his approach, as there is a lot of swing-and-miss in his game (21% or higher at all but one stop in the minors), and hasn't manifested a high walk rate to go along with it. He is likely ready right now to be a backup from a defensive perspective, and is expected to be at least an average or better defender in the major leagues.

What's Keeping Him From Contributing Now?

With Stassi, the key player in front of him on the depth chart is Jason Castro. Castro emerged in 2013 with an 18 home run campaign to go with a .276 batting average for the Astros, but was eligible for arbitration for the first time this year. As the Astros continue towards competitiveness, it's still possible the team could look to move Castro as he gets more expensive. It's early still, so it's not clear that would be a definite thing to happen.

When Could He Arrive?

Stassi will likely head to AAA Oklahoma City for the start of the 2014 season, but would be the most likely to get the call should Castro or backup Carlos Corporan get injured for any amount of time, as Stassi is the only other catcher on the 40-man roster. Without an injury, Stassi would likely be in line for a shot at the backup job to start the 2015 season.

What Can He Do When He Gets There?

The key for Stassi will be his role. If he is the backup for the Astros, he only becomes a viable fantasy options in AL-only leagues where you are required to play two catchers. If he ends up as a consistent starter (either for the Astros or another team), he could provide a positionally-reasonable batting average (.245-.255 range), with double digit home runs.

Conclusions

Stassi is a worthy target as a reserve round draft pick in nearly all AL-only drafts or a $1 bid at the end of AL-only auctions this year, as he could provide positive production at a position should he get the opportunity to play every day, regardless of the role. Something worth noting is that he appeared in more games as a DH than a catcher in 2013, so it is possible that in your league he will not qualify at catcher initially.

Jason Hunt is a contributing writer for Fake Teams, specializing in the minor leagues and prospects. You can follow him on Twitter

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