The Houston Astros open 2014 with a huge hole at first base.
On the plus side, the club has sometimes-first-baseman Chris Carter earmarked for the designated hitter role so he could shift over, and Top 10 prospect Jonathan Singleton could be ready for The Show before the year is out. But if you want to take a negative spin, Carter doesn’t play defense overly well and Singleton is coming off of a poor offensive performance, as well as a 50-game suspension.
The club has a few other options at first base in the form of veteran Mexican league slugger Japhet Amador, outfielder Marc Krauss, utility man Jesus Guzman, and recently-demoted Brett Wallace.
I won’t delve into the different options because I already looked at many of those options recently, but what I will do is look at whether or not it makes sense to view current first-string catcher Jason Castro as the first baseman of the future in Houston.
There has been some talk among fans and the media that the move makes sense — mainly because of his checkered injury history. Castro has suffered through a variety of ailments so the move makes sense on the surface; a switch to a less physically-demanding position would (theoretically) lessen the likelihood of injuries cropping up. And with Carlos Corporan serving as a solid big league back-up, it would allow the club to hand a role to solid catching prospect Max Stassi (who also suffered through injury last year).
But the big questions is: Would moving Castro from catcher to first base diminish his positional value to the point that it would hurt the team more than it would help it? After all, the offensive expectations for a first baseman are far more substantial than they are for a catcher.
According to Baseball Reference, the average triple-slash line for first basemen in 2013 was: .261/.337/.436 (approximately .340 wOBA). According to the same source, the average triple-slash line for catchers in 2013 was: .245/.310/.388.
So, how has Castro fared on offense?
Castro’s career: (1,003 ABs) .255/.332/.417 (.327 wOBA)
Castro’s 2013: ( 435 ABs) .276/.350/.485 (.361 wOBA)
What these numbers show us is that, for his career, Castro has been an above-average hitting catcher but would have been a below-average hitting first baseman. Looking just at last year, he was a well-above-average-hitting catcher and slightly-above-average for a first baseman.
If his bat continues to follow his established development path, then he could become an above-average hitting first baseman but that’s not a foregone conclusion. As it stands, Castro would be an average-ish first baseman — as opposed to an all-star level catcher. And that’s not even taking his above-average defensive skills behind the plate into consideration — including his leadership with the pitching staff and ability to control the running game.
Unless Castro’s bat takes another big step forward, the move from catcher to first base would not be advisable, and it would also hurt his future trade value.