Castro enters into important spring with Astros
After missing all of 2011, healthy catcher has plenty to prove
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Jason Castro had hoped to be well on his way to a productive big league career by now. He figured he would have had more than a year of Major League service time under his belt and would have been the anchor of the young Astros lineup.
That was before Castro stepped awkwardly on first base during a Grapefruit League game in Lakeland, Fla., a year ago. That was before he ripped up his right knee and missed the entire 2011 season, turning his life upside down and putting the Astros' catching plans in limbo.
For now, Castro remains the Astros' catcher of the future, and he came to Spring Training in good health and with plenty left to prove. Despite losing a year to injury in his young career, Castro is thankful to be back on the field and back in his element.
"Given the circumstances and the way things are playing out, I'm happy with where I'm at," he said. "Like I said, the rehab process went very well, as good as I could have hoped for. I'm going to continue to keep doing the right things I need to do to stay healthy and ease into full-on baseball activities. We'll go from there."
Castro, 24, has gotten more attention than any other player so far in camp, and for good reason. The Astros have a lot invested in their 2008 first-round Draft pick and are desperate to find out what he can do during a full season in the Major Leagues.
He missed all of last season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee, and his comeback suffered a setback late last year when he injured his foot in the Arizona Fall League. Castro underwent surgery Dec. 9 to remove the sesamoid bone from his left foot, adding another three months to his rehab clock.
"I'm coming into camp and working as hard as I can and doing everything I can to put myself in that position for Opening Day," he said.
There are no questions about Castro's abilities to work with pitchers and call games. A product of Stanford University, he received good marks from the pitching staff when he made his Major League debut in 2010, concerning his ability to handle the staff.
What remains to be seen is how well Castro, a left-handed hitter, can swing the bat against Major League pitching. He was a career .287 hitter in only 215 Minor League games before being called up in June 2010. He batted .205 with two homers and eight RBIs in 67 games with the Astros later that year. Needless to say, the club is eager to see what he can do.
"Jason's critical for the future of this team," Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "All indications are he's coming along well recuperating from his injuries. We've got three guys [Castro, Humberto Quintero, Chris Snyder] who are going to be competing at two spots. Like everybody else, he's going to have to win the spot.
"Jason is the type of player we want to have on this team going forward, somebody who can be a leader and who can produce offensively and be productive defensively and really set the tone for the entire team."
Castro's 2011 wasn't a complete loss. While rehabbing from his knee injury, he watched as many games as he could and studied the pitching staff. The Astros had so much turnover on their roster since 2010 that many of the pitchers he caught are no longer with the club, so this spring is as much about getting to know the new arms as it is proving his worth on the field.
"We do have a bunch of new guys I'll have to get to know during Spring Training, but there is a core group of guys I played with and caught in 2010, and the rapport is there," Castro said. "I was around the field a lot last year, so even though I wasn't catching guys, I was watching them pitch.
"I was talking to guys after their starts and things like that. I missed some playing time, but as far as keeping up with the pitchers and as far as how they were doing and building that rapport, that never stopped. Hopefully we can just get right back into things and keep progressing."
The Astros are going to handle Castro with care. He only caught in the bullpen one time (instead of the typical three times) during his first day in camp on Monday, and it's unlikely he'll play in as many games during the regular season as he would have if he had never gotten injured.
"There's no reason to push him right now," manager Brad Mills said.
Castro, who keeps himself in terrific shape, says he will closely monitor his body throughout the season -- a season that can't arrive soon enough.
"That's the biggest thing, is listening to what my body is telling me and just going from there," he said. "I feel good, I'll continue to push things, and on the days I don't feel as great, I'll kind of take it easy. That's all part of listening to my body and how it's progressing every day until we get to Opening Day."