Catchers are not supposed to be 5’10’’, 175 pounds, which is why the 5’10’’, 175-pound Garrett Stubbs, Houston Astros, will never get respect on traditional prospect lists. He looks a lot like Brett Gardner at the plate, and Gardner was called a “4th outfielder” while he was actively putting up 5 and 6 WAR seasons in the Major Leagues (a lot of that being defense). Odd Yankees rant aside, the point is that little guys get no respect even when they are dominating, and that is exactly what the 23-year-old, lefty hitting Stubbs did at High-A and Double-A this season, dominate.
Stubbs started his season off at High-A Lancaster in the Cal League where he slashed .291/.385/.442, with 6 homers, 10 steals, and a 37/29 K/BB in 55 games. The power breakout was great to see, as he hit only 2 homers in his entire 4-year college career, and none in his 36-game pro debut in A-Ball in 2015. He was then promoted to Double-A on July 5th, and he took his game to another level, slashing .325/.401/.517, with 4 homers, 5 steals, and a 11/14 K/BB in 31 games. What makes the moderate power outbreak so exciting is that he was able to maintain, and even improve upon his already excellent contact skills and plate approach. In Stubbs’ aforementioned pro debut, he struck out a total of 5 times to go along with 21 walks in 145 plate attempts, and now you can add an 8% walk rate and 10% BB rate at Double-A to that resume. The guy can flat out hit a baseball. He is also a smart baserunner with about average speed, as evidenced by his 15 steals this season and the 20 bags he stole his senior year at college. If you liked what J.T. Realmuto gave you at catcher this year, Stubbs might be able to do something similar down the line.
There are a few red flags to his profile. Like Gardner, especially early in his career, most of Stubbs’ power is of the pull, wall scraping variety. Here is a video of him hitting his final homer of the season on the road, and another of him hitting a walk off double at home. Notice that you have likely played in softball games where it was harder to hit homeruns down the right field line than it is at Houston’s Double-A home field. And Stubbs played in a miniature ballpark at High-A in the Cal League too, so even the moderate power outbreak might be a little deceiving. Scouts do give him high marks on his defense and ability to stick at catcher, but there are concerns his slight build will prevent him from handling the rigors of catching 120+ games in the majors. The most obvious red flag is that he has been considered a bit old for his level the past two seasons, although being 23 at Double-A is not too much of a crime.
Stubbs has a very short, quick swing to go along with a patient approach. There might not be much more than 10-12 homer power, but tack on 10-12 steals and a solid batting average, and that makes for a likely top 12 catcher in fantasy leagues. There is really nobody currently in Houston’s organization that is blocking him from playing time if he continues to excel, and even if he can’t start a full season behind the plate, he has the athleticism to handle 2B and/or OF on days he isn’t catching. I can see a scenario where he catches about 60-80 games and gets another 30-40 games in at other positions. For 2017, I think Stubbs will at best get a cup of coffee in the 2nd half, but in his prime, I will give him a projection of 76/12/57/.273/.348/.391/11. I ranked him within my top 10 minor league catchers on the Catcher Episode of the Razzball Prospect Podcast, and he is someone I would target late in off-season prospect drafts if I was looking to add an almost MLB ready catcher to my system.