VIERA, Fla. -- There probably isn't a more popular player in the Astros' clubhouse than Carlos Corporan, the personable catcher who appreciates the opportunities presented to him daily in baseball and life thanks to challenges he's faced on and off the field.
Corporan, 30, has found a comfortable home as a backup catcher with the Astros, who signed him three years ago as a veteran Minor League journeyman with only one Major League at-bat -- a hit off Reds shortstop Paul Janish in 2009.
Corporan made his first Opening Day roster a year ago and spent the entire season on the 25-man roster, save for a trip to the disabled list for a concussion. He's a lock to make the club this year, giving Houston a solid catching duo that features All-Star Jason Castro.
"There was some point I thought I was going to be a Minor League guy forever," said Corporan, who spent seven years in the Brewers' system, with stops at Beloit, Brevard County, Huntsville and Triple-A Nashville prior to his 2009 debut. "Finding this opportunity here was everything for me. It changed my mind, changed my vision. I feel like I belong in the big leagues. That's something good."
Corporan, a switch-hitter, played in a career-high 64 games last year while backing up Castro. He hit .225 with seven homers and 20 RBIs in 191 at-bats and gave the Astros a steady presence behind the plate when Castro was given a day off or was in the lineup as the designated hitter.
"He's done a great job," Castro said. "He's got what I would consider one of the hardest jobs in baseball. Any time you're not necessarily playing every day and asked to get in there, kind of jump in right where the other guys left off, it's a tough job.
"I've split time a couple of years ago a little bit, and just not getting that rhythm of the games is tough. He's got a knack for it. He's learned what it takes to do it, and it's a nice feeling to not only have him as a catcher, but as a teammate, who when he's in there, he's going to get the job done."
There were times during his Minor League career when Corporan was beginning to think he'd never make it to the big leagues. And even when he had his lone at-bat in 2009, the Brewers cut him following that season, and he played for a year in the D-backs' organization.
Corporan signed with the Astros prior to the 2011 season and wound up hitting just .188 in 52 games for the Major League club while Castro was out for the season. Corporan batted .269 in 27 games for Houston in 2012 before spending the entire '13 season with the Astros.
"I'm happy with my role and know what I have to do," Corporan said. "Last year was a learning process for me, and I think this year is going to be even better. I love to work with Jason. He's tremendous."
Last season also presented a challenge off the field for Corporan, whose 16-month-old son died in October 2012 following four heart surgeries. The loss was a heavy burden on Corporan and his wife, Stephanie.
Corporan understands, perhaps more than anyone, how vulnerable a life and career can be.
"You never know when it's going to be your last game," he said. "I've gone through a lot, so I really appreciate this opportunity."
Corporan has been working this spring on being more patient at the plate and drawing more walks. That's not an easy assignment during the regular season when the at-bats can be scarce and you're facing the other team's ace after sitting on the bench for four days.
"You have a lot of time to prepare, as well," Corporan said. "You kind of know when you're going to play. I do lot of research on the computer of what [the opposing pitcher] is going to throw and in what counts. That's something you have to learn. It's not an easy job. You have to take in as much information as you can. Thank God I did it. I did really well last year, and hopefully I can do it again."
Corporan's positive approach means a lot to his teammates. When starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel was roughed up on Tuesday, Corporan told him, "Hey, we'll get better."
"He does a good job of keeping all the pitchers loose," Keuchel said. "He knows the hitters, not by what the books say, but by what he sees and he feels in the box. Guys love that."
Corporan says his goal this year is to try to give up fewer than two runs each time he catches. There hasn't been a significant dropoff when he's been behind the plate. Astros pitchers posted a 4.79 ERA when Corporan was catching last year, compared to 4.84 with Castro putting down the fingers. Corporan threw out 24 percent of runners attempting to steal, while Castro threw out 25 percent.
"I joked with Jason when he made the All-Star team, I told him to go shake Corporan's hand, because when you have a backup catcher that the pitchers love to throw to, you can catch him any day ... and you're not worried about losing too much from a team standpoint," manager Bo Porter said. "You're putting a guy back there that can call a game. He can catch and throw, and [he] gives you something offensively as well. It's a great luxury to have."