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01/27/10 9:00 PM ET

Castro cracks top 50 prospect list

Astros to give backstop chance to earn Opening Day nod

HOUSTON -- Catching prospect Jason Castro represents a fresh, new beginning for the Astros' player development department.

Castro, selected No. 10 overall in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, was the first Draft pick by assistant general manager and scouting director Bobby Heck, who was hired by general manager Ed Wade after the 2007 season to rebuild a farm system considered one of the thinnest in baseball.

Castro hasn't disappointed and will come to Major League Spring Training this year with a chance to be the Opening Day starting catcher.

"We knew that he had a chance to be a special player coming out of the Draft," Wade said. "That was clear to Bobby Heck and our scouts who had a chance to see him a lot. He's a very level-headed kid with good athleticism, but until you get a player in your system and see how he handles playing every single day and see how he handles wooden bats and all the different demands that come along with professional baseball, you really can't predict how fast he'll move."

Castro, 22, started the 2009 season at Class A Lancaster, where he hit .309 with seven home runs and 44 RBIs in 56 games before being promoted to Double-A Corpus Christi. He hit .293 in 63 games for the Hooks and was named to Team USA for the XM Futures All-Star Game in St. Louis, where he hit a three-run homer.

In September, Castro played for the Team USA squad that went 14-1 and captured the gold medal in the International Baseball Federation World Cup. Castro joined the Peoria Saguaros in the Arizona Fall League in October and hit .143 in 11 games before being shut down because of his work load.

"He handled all those challenges very, very well," Wade said. "We'll present another challenge to him this spring and give him every opportunity to make the club out of Spring Training."

Castro, who is not on the 40-man roster, will battle with J.R. Towles for the starting spot, with Humberto Quintero penciled in as the backup catcher.

"In our eyes, he's not coming in as a non-roster invitee," Wade said. "He's coming in as a non-roster invitee with a legitimate chance to be standing behind the dish when the national anthem is played on Opening Day."

Castro appears to have all the tools, but he's not a finished product. Specifically, the Astros would like to see him develop more power as he matures. He has a solid arm and release and has soft hands, which helps him receive the ball.

"We're not saying he's not ready for the big leagues, but he's a very young player with corners left to turn," Wade said. "We like his defensive skills, the way he sets up behind home plate, his arm and his release and intellectually the way he can call a game. And we like him offensively.

"He's got a chance to develop more power as he gets more comfortable, and there are several phases of the game he can get better at."

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