Getting hit with in the face with a pitch is not a fun way to start your big league career, but Houston Astros catching prospect Max Stassi is no stranger to injury. A healthy Stassi has the tools and skills to be a long-term fixture behind home plate, but can he stay healthy?
Stassi was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the fourth round in 2009, although his draft slot was deceptive. He was considered a first round talent and was paid accordingly, signing for $1,500,000, which was the most money ever paid to a fourth rounder. Considered an excellent defensive catcher with a power bat, he was initially limited to DH duty due to a shoulder injury. He also didn't live up to expectations at the plate, hitting .229/.310/.380 for Low-A Kane County in 2010, struggling with contact problems (145 strikeouts in 411 at-bats) though he did hit 13 homers in a tough power league.
He was limited to just 31 games for High-A Stockton in 2011, hitting .231/.331/.331. He was clearly not healthy when he did play, and ended up going on the shelf with shoulder surgery that May. Returning to Stockton for 2012, he missed more time with injuries including painful oblique and ankle problems. He hit .268/.311/.468 with 15 homers and 83 strikeouts in 314 at-bats between doctor visits.
Stassi was traded from Oakland to Houston this past February in the Jed Lowrie/Chris Carter deal. This is what I wrote about him at the time.
Stassi is a 5-10, 205 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born March 15, 1991. Despite his health and performance issues, scouts remain fond of him, in great part due to his makeup. The shoulder injury cost him more than a year of development work behind the plate, where he shows mobility and leadership skills but is still working on his throwing. Scouts like the pop in Stassi's bat and he's produced solid power when healthy, but his strike zone judgment is substandard and he simply swings-and-misses a lot. His swing is sound enough and his power is real, but he chases too many pitches outside the zone. Stassi should be expected to hit home runs, but his batting average and OBP have not been a strength to this point.
Although I don't have much objective evidence to back it up, I think Stassi has the potential to improve a great deal, and currently rate him as a Grade C+ prospect.
The scouting report remains accurate but with some positive additions.
The Astros sent Stassi to Double-A Corpus Christi and he responded with a .277/.333/.529 campaign, with 17 homers, 19 walks, and 68 strikeouts in 289 at-bats before his promotion. He still strikes out quite a bit and isn't the kind of guy likely to hit .300, but the power is genuine, he adapted to Double-A, and he's made improvements with his approach. He used to be a strict pull hitter but has done a better job taking his power the opposite way lately.
Despite the history of arm trouble he has been effective against baserunners this year, catching 37% in the Texas League. He continues to receive good reviews for his other defensive skills and for his makeup. He comes from a baseball family: his great-great uncle Myril Hoag played in the major leagues for 13 years. The baseball bloodlines show through with Stassi.
It seems like he has been around awhile, but Stassi is still just 22 years old. If he can avoid further health concerns, his combination of power and defensive ability could keep him in the majors as long as great-great uncle Myril was.