Max Stassi has proven he’s a legit power-hitting catcher, but he plays a position where defense is an integral part of reaching the major leagues.
Entering Tuesday night’s game against Memphis at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, the RedHawks’ catcher was hitting .249 with five home runs and 29 RBIs, the most RBIs of any catcher in the 16-team Pacific Coast League.
A fourth-round pick out of high school by Oakland in 2009, Stassi was acquired by the Houston Astros a year ago in a trade involving shortstop Jed Lowrie. It appears his offensive skills will translate to the majors. But what about his work behind the plate?
“I feel my defense is coming along good,” Stassi said. “At first I wasn’t throwing as well as I’d like. I’ve made some adjustments with Jeff Murphy, our catching instructor, who is at every home game.”
Stassi, 23, has worked on his mechanics with Murphy, a former bullpen catcher with the St. Louis Cardinals.
“He’s really helped me with the mindset of the game and how to go about my business,” Stassi said. “He’s worked with some of the best catchers in baseball: Yadier Molina and Mike Matheny. He’s really helped me out a lot. He does a phenomenal job.”
Even if he goes 0-for-4, Stassi can help win games, whether it’s nursing a pitcher out of a jam, blocking potential wild pitches, throwing out base stealers or, most importantly, calling a good game.
“Playing catcher is so different than any other position because we’re involved with every pitch,” Stassi said. “When a pitcher doesn’t have his best stuff, you try to help them get through it. Every pitcher is different.
“Communication is big, learning how to relate to your pitchers. You have to make sure you’re on the same page. You try to build a trust that he knows you’re back there working for him, that you’re suggesting the right pitches.”
Stassi’s offensive stats have slipped slightly compared to a stellar season at Double-A Corpus Christi (.277 with 17 homers, 60 RBIs), but the Woodland, Calif., product has All-Star caliber stats when compared to other PCL catchers.
“Baseball is still the same game, but Triple-A is different,” Stassi said. “Sometimes the velocity is actually higher in Double-A, because it’s prospects trying to learn how to pitch. It’s been an adjustment, but making adjustments is what this game is all about.
“In Triple-A you have more veteran pitchers. Some of them have pitched in the big leagues. Others have been in Triple-A for four or five years. That’s the biggest adjustment. They know how to pitch.”
Owning a career .322 on-base percentage in the minors, Stassi said dealing with the day-to-day grind is half the battle in professional baseball.
Last season he got a taste of the big leagues, collecting two hits in seven late-season at bats with the Astros. But Stassi had never played above Double-A.
The Astros felt a season in Triple-A would reveal a lot about their top catching prospect. Stassi has fared well, showing he might not be far from contributing to the big league club.
“If I work hard on an everyday basis, that’s how you get results,” Stassi said. “Each day is a new opportunity to have some success by working on the process. Each day you just give it your all and see what happens.”