Sorry, I couldn’t help myself – the desire for a bad pun was just too strong. But, yes, this post is about Chris Coste, the 35-year-old journeyman Triple-A catcher who is trying to convince the Phillies to never send him back down, and doing a pretty good job of it. After hitting his fifth home run of the season last night, Coste now has the highest OPS (.999) of any catcher with at least 100 plate appearances in 2008. Among that group, he’s third in batting average, second in on base percentage, and first in slugging, giving the Phillies an offensive boost from behind the plate.
This isn’t the first time Coste has blistered major league pitching either. He hit .328/.376/.505 in 213 plate appearances with Philadelphia back in 2006, and his career major league line now stands at .316/.363/.498. Since making his major league debut at age 33, Coste has been worth approximately three wins more than an average catcher. That’s a huge contribution from a guy who was living the Crash Davis persona for a decade.
Realistically, though, no one could have seen this coming, and that it continues is one of the more improbable story lines in baseball. Despite being a three time All-American for Division III Concorida College, Coste couldn’t find an organization willing to give him a minor league job, so he hooked on with the independent Frontier League, where he played from 1996 to 1999. He did enough to earn a minor league contract from the Indians in 2000, and he kicked around various Double-A and Triple-A affiliates for the next six years. He never stood out as anything spectacular, posting a career .286/.335/.421 mark. He was a serviceable minor league catcher, but nothing more. In fact, in 2006, he was hitting .177/.236/.272 for Scranton before getting the call to Philadelphia to make his debut. When you see a 33-year-old posting a .508 OPS in Triple-A, you’re not thinking that he’s going to get to the majors and start hitting from day one.
But that’s exactly what Coste has done. Since arriving, he’s done his best Gary Carter impression, and his offensive performance as a big leaguer would fit right into any Hall of Fame catcher’s resume. Coste certainly isn’t going to end up in Cooperstown, but he’s hitting like someone who deserves to be remembered as more than the 33 year old rookie. His story is the kind of thing they make movies out of, but they can worry about that when he’s done. Right now, it looks like it will be a while before he’s ready to hang up his spikes.