When the Astros traded away backup catcher Hank Conger in the offseason, his spot on the 25-man roster in 2016 became wide-open. One young man who will be competing this spring to fill it is the Astros' 2012 eighth-round pick, Tyler Heineman.
Heineman is a switch-hitter, listed at 5'11" and 205 pounds, who has developed a reputation as a solid receiver who can hit a bit. Perhaps his biggest headlines were in Lancaster in 2013. He belted thirteen home runs in the desert that year, including a few of the inside-the-park variety. Even in Lancaster, that's unusual for someone fitting Heineman's profile: While not a slug on the basepaths by any means, he's not going to win a lot of footraces.
He began 2015 in Double-A Corpus Christi. Over his 22 games there, he put together a 124 wRC+, paired with a 52% caught-stealing rate from behind the dish. After moving to Triple-A Fresno, however, his wRC+ tumbled to the lowest of his career, 81, while his caught-stealing rate fell to 20%. But even then, his strikeout rate and isolated power improved from 2014.
Heineman should be considered a long-shot to earn the backup catcher spot in 2016, at least out of Spring Training, due to the fact that he's not on the 40-man roster. Fellow minor leaguers Max Stassi and Alfredo Gonzalez join starter Jason Castro on that list. His .190/.288/.224 slash line over 19 games in the Dominican Winter League suggests that he could still use more seasoning at the plate, too.
There is one thing working in his favor: Neither Stassi nor Gonzalez can really be considered a finished product at this point, so don't be surprised if Heineman makes a cameo in 2016 with the big league team.