Astros' catchers battle for No. 1 job

Zachary Levine on the Astros' position battle that shouldn't be:

    And the final rose goes to ...

    In a spring training without a whole lot of drama — even the first round of cuts featured hardly a newsworthy name — the battle to be the Astros' starting catcher is the season's hottest reality show.

    Fighting to win the hearts of general manager Ed Wade, manager Brad Mills and the rest of the Astros brass, J.R. Towles and Jason Castro have both put up sexy numbers and are doing everything they can in the other phases of the game to land the opening day spot.

    “Those guys have both played real well,” Mills said. “We're still evaluating and seeing how things are going. We still have a few weeks to go yet before we have to make those final decisions, and I expect it will come down to really almost near the end.”

    At the plate, it's the most obvious.

    Towles, 26, has been the Astros' hottest hitter and most pleasant surprise of spring training. He still has to prove himself in the regular season, where he is a .188 hitter, but for now, he's 11-for-20 (.550) with five doubles and a triple.

    Castro, the Astros' top pick of the 2008 draft and top hitting prospect in the high minors, is not far behind. The lefthanded hitter is 7-for-15 (.467) with a double and three walks.


    Between now and the end of spring training, Mills will give all three catchers time and use them as designated hitters when possible to increase their at-bats and clarify who would make the more effective starter and who is likely headed to Class AAA Round Rock.

Yeah, three catchers. The third is Humberto Quintero, who served as the No. 2 catcher last season -- hitting almost exactly as awfully as No. 1 Ivan Rodriguez -- and is slated for the same duties this season.

Leaving Quintero aside, is this really the best way to run a baseball team? Getting three catchers into the lineup whenever possible and hoping that the most talented of them happens to finish March with the highest batting average?

Towles has struggled in the majors. He's not been the healthiest of players. But he's hit well in Class A, he's hit well in Class AA, and he's hit well in Class AAA. If he's healthy, he'll eventually hit well in Class AAAA (a/k/a the National League). Meanwhile, Castro is a wonderful prospect but he's got only 63 games of experience above A-ball and wasn't all that impressive in those 63 games.

If Castro's playing Gold Glove-quality defense and the Astros don't have anybody else, then sure: Pudge Rodriguez skipped Triple-A when he was only 19, and that worked out well enough. But the Astros do have somebody else, in fact a pretty good somebody. There's simply no reason to rush Castro before he's done anything special in Double-A.