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Powell brings stability to catching situation

Powell brings stability to catching situation

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Jeff Luhnow, then working in scouting and player development for the St. Louis Cardinals, remembers how touted the kid was. "I've been a Landon Powell fan since the [2004] Draft," the Astros' new general manager said.

"It's good to know you've made impressions here and there, that you're still somewhat respected in this game," Powell said before the Astros fell to the Blue Jays, 6-3, at Osceola County Stadium on Thursday.

Memories are nice, but Powell is looking forward to a fresh start. He got his first at-bats in an Astros uniform Thursday after being released by the A's and signing a Minor League contract with Houston. With that, the team's catching situation continued to come together.

Early in Spring Training, there were legitimate concerns. Jason Castro, the projected starter in 2011, was coming off knee surgery that cost him the entire season. Humberto Quintero, who played in 79 games, was sidelined with a sore back.

Not only is Castro back, he's hitting .467 this spring.

Quintero got five at-bats in a simulated game at the Minor League complex Thursday and was encouraged.

"The first two or three at-bats, I didn't feel comfortable, but after that I started swinging a little bit harder. The last three at-bats, I felt really good," Quintero said.

Quintero could play as early as Saturday against the Yankees in Tampa.

Now they've signed Powell, who also saw action in the simulated game, which adds to their depth at that pivotal position. And while he didn't necessarily see the change coming, he's fine with it.

"I'm glad to be part of the Astros' organization," Powell said. "I kind of knew that if things didn't go well early in [A's] camp, as far as looking like I was going to be the guy, I probably wouldn't be there. Because, traditionally, they haven't kept guys around if they don't need them. I respected the fact that they gave me a chance to leave early and find another job with a fresh start here in Houston and show that I can help a team.

"I've been fortunate to be in the big leagues for three years. I've had some success. I've had some failure. It's been a good experience. I've learned a lot from it. I've learned a lot about the game. I'm excited just to keep moving forward. I know I've got plenty of games left to play. So, I'm excited to be here and help out any way I can."

Powell is 29 now. His career got sidetracked in the minors when he tore an ACL in 2005. Then he tore it again in 2007. He made it to the majors and hit seven homers in 140 at-bats, but his playing time and his production tailed off after that. Last season, he batted just .171 in 111 at-bats.

"In this game, you always know that anything can happen. You never take anything for granted, because the game can be taken from you in a heartbeat. I learned that in the Minor Leagues through injuries and things like that," Powell said.

Hitters who don't hit quickly find themselves sitting on the bench. But the conundrum has always been that hitters who don't get regular at-bats almost always find it nearly impossible to stay sharp when they do get a chance.

"Offensively is where I've struggled a little bit," Powell admitted. "I've had limited opportunities the last couple years. When I first came up as a rookie, I thought I demonstrated I could provide offensively, as well as defensively. Since then, opportunities have been few and far between and it's been hard to stay consistent.

"The biggest thing for me is trying to take it back to the grindstone offensively, really work and try to master my craft, offensively, and put the numbers up there so they don't have that knock on me. Defensively, I think I bring a lot to the table. Offensively is where I've lacked and I need to work on that."

Luhnow still envisions the player who came out of the University of South Carolina, the guy who was the 24th overall pick eight years ago.

"We have some good hitting coaches here. Maybe they can unlock something different," Luhnow said. "He's still young. He's still got potential. He's a good guy to have in our organization. I don't know what happened in Oakland, but we're happy to give him a chance here.

"We really needed one more guy to plug in there to provide us with that insurance. It's a critical position and it's a position where guys go down from one moment to the next. It affects you both ways. It affects your pitching staff and it affects your lineup. Your defense, obviously, has a secondary effect on the psychology of your team. As far as I'm concerned, I'd love to have excellent two-way catchers, three of them at every level if I could."

The Astros aren't there. But they're just a little bit closer than they were just a few weeks ago.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.