Results tagged ‘ Jason Castro ’
Astros manager Brad Mills has set his lineup for the Grapefruit League opener Monday against the Braves in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. As is the case with most road games in Spring Training, several players will be staying behind to get their work in at camp.
Clint Barmes, Bill Hall, Humberto Quintero and Brian Bogusevic are among those not traveling with the team to Disney on Monday, but the Astros are at home Tuesday at Osceola County Stadium. That’s when we should get our first glimpse of the lineup with all the players available.
Here is the lineup for Monday’s exhibition opener against Atlanta:
CF Michael Bourn
1B Brett Wallace
RF Hunter Pence
LF Carlos Lee
DH Jason Michaels
3B Chris Johnson
C Jason Castro
2B Matt Downs
SS Tommy Manzella
Wandy Rodriguez will and pitch two scheduled innings.
Perhaps it’s foolish to assume Carlos Lee, Michael Bourn and Wandy Rodriguez will each have rebound seasons, and perhaps it’s too much to ask Hunter Pence and Bud Norris to keep improving. Can Brett Myers and Chris Johnson possibly duplicate their success of a year ago? That, too, is a question the Astros will ponder.
For the Astros to make any kind of noise in an improved National League Central in 2011, they will certainly everyone to be at their best. They’ll need Lee and Wandy to perform like they did in the second half, and Pence and Norris to continue to blossom. They’ll need Myers and Johnson to prove last year wasn’t a fluke, and newcomers Bill Hall and Clint Barmes to make an immediate impact.
These are not unreasonable expectations, though it’s likely there are going to be road bumps. But more than anything else, the Astros’ need to get more from their youngsters, specifically catcher Jason Castro and first baseman Brett Wallace. The Astros are committed to these two left-handed bats in the lineup, both of whom were taken high in the first round in the 2008 Draft.
Wallace, traded from the Blue Jays last July, and Castro both got their feet wet in 2010 with varing degrees of success/disappointment. But now it’s time for them to jump right in. Imagine how the whole lineup would change if Wallace slugs like he did in the Minor Leagues and Castro blossoms into a solid hitter? That would suddenly give the Astros a deep batting order to go along with a pretty good rotation.
The Astros dealt with and certainly expected both to struggle a year ago, but now they’re fully invested in Wallace and Castro. The Astros have some good catching prospects on the farm, but none on the immediate horizon. Castro is the guy. The team toyed with bringing in a left-fielder as an insurance policy if Lee had to move to first to replace Wallace, but general manager Ed Wade said at the Winter Meetings they wanted to remain fully committed to Wallace.
Hopefully, for the Astros’s sake, Wallace and Castro can reward that confidence this season and come into their own.
I hope everyone had a great holiday season, and, like most of you, I’m back to work this week. We’ll find out Wednesday if Astros icon Jeff Bagwell made it into the Hall of Fame, and the more I hear and see feedback from those with a vote, the less likely I think it is that he’ll make it on the first ballot. Colleague Peter Gammons thinks he should make it eventually, for what it’s worth.
Wednesday also begins the salary arbitration filing period, a list that is now down to five players following the trade of Matt Lindstrom: Wandy Rodriguez, Clint Barmes, Jeff Keppinger, Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence.
Every few days for the next two weeks, I’m going to take an in-depth, position-by-postion look at the Astros. What went wrong/right last year? Where do they stand at that position? Who do they have coming up that could make an impact? What does the immediate future hold at that position?
This should help us get through the World Series and into free agency, which begins five days after the end of the Fall Classic. Last year at this time, we were writing about who the Astros were going to hire as manager, so things are much quieter this time around. So let’s jump right in and take a look at our first position breakdown of the offseason: catcher.
2010 Opening Day starter: J.R. Towles
2010 end-of-season starter: Jason Castro
Others who were in the mix: Humberto Quintero, Kevin Cash
Combined stats of Astros catchers: .220 BA/.269 OBP/.312 SLG, 22 doubles, 9 homers, 39 RBIs, 35 walks, 122 strikeouts, 551 at-bats.
Free agents: None
Arbitration eligible: Quintero
What happened: The Astros have struggled to find offense at catcher for more than a decade, which was one of the reasons they drafted Jason Castro with the No. 10 overall pick in 2008. He wasn’t going to get confused with Johnny Bench on offense, but the club believes he can be a good offensive player and is already capable of catching at the Major League level.
Still, the season begin with Castro getting his first taste at Triple-A Round Rock and J.R. Towles as the starter with Humberto Quintero backing him up. Towles, in what might have been his last chance in the organization, struggled to hit and was optioned to Double-A on May 5. He wound up getting injured and missing much of the second half.
The Astros were desperate for catching help and called up Kevin Cash, who provided little offense but was a veteran presence behind the plate. All the while, Quintero was hitting his typical .230 and throwing our runners on bases. He also caught Brett Myers, who had his best season in his debut with the Astros.
With the season slipping away, the Astros finally summoned Castro from Triple-A Round Rock on June 22 to began a youth infusion. Castro was plugged into the starting lineup and hit .205/.286/.287 with two homers and eight RBIs in 67 games (57 starts). He still has strides to make defensively, though he did throw out 37 percent of the runners who tried to steal a base against him.
What’s next: The Astros are still committed to Castro. He’s only 23 years old and there’s no reason to believe he won’t get better with age. But don’t be surprised to the see the club perhaps bring in a low-cost veteran to take over behind the plate if Castro just isn’t ready on Opening Day. Among the free agents who could fit that bill are Gregg Zaun, Matt Treanor and Josh Bard or similiar-type players in age (older), ability (declining) and salary (cheap). Unless the Astros don’t tender him a contract, Quintero appears poised to return as the back up yet again.
Who’s on the farm: Ben Heath, taken in the fifth round in the 2010 Draft out of Penn State, had a solid debut and finished the year with a cup of coffee at Double-A Corpus Christi. He hit a combined .276/.387/.495 with 10 homers and 38 RBIs in 210 at-bats between short-season Tri-City and Class A Lexington, spending 37 games at the New York-Penn League and 20 games in the South Atlantic League. Venezuelan switch-hitter Federico Hernandez hit a combined .273/.303/.429 last season between Class A Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi. Farther away, 2010 Draft pick Chris Wallace hit a combined .293 with 10 homers and 40 RBIs between rookie-league Greeneville and Tri-City. Jonathan Fixler and Lou Santangelo saw time at Corpus Christi last year, too.
In summary: Castro is the man of the future, but if he winds up not being able to cut it, the Astros seem to have a wave a younger catchers on the rise in the Minors for the first time in years.
So the Astros won’t finish at .500. Sunday’s loss guaranteed the local nine would finish with a losing record for the second consecutive year and for the third time in four years, but there’s not much the Astros can do in the final week of the season that could spoil the strides they made in the second half.
Sunday’s 9-3 loss to the Pirates was reminiscent of the first two months of the season, when the club didn’t do enough offensively to make up for its mistakes. J.A. Happ pitched a terrific game and wound up with a loss because of a costly fielding miscue and a woeful performance by the bullpen.
In addition to the error by catcher Jason Castro, who couldn’t handle a late throw by third baseman Chris Johnson, the Astros weren’t sharp on defense in the eighth inning, when the Pirates scored four runs to put the game away. Houston is 2-5 on its final road trip with one stop left in Cincinnati.
“It’s been a frustrating trip so far,” Johnson said. “We know what kind of team we have and we know we should be winning some of these games. But we’re not doing the little things. We’re throwing the ball around on defense and not coming up with timely hits. You lose when you do that.”
In the sixth inning Sunday, the Pirates were trailing 1-0 and had runners at first and third base with one out. Ronny Cedeno hit a ground ball to third base, where Johnson fielded it and turned his attention to Garrett Jones heading for home. Johnson threw home, but Castro couldn’t handle the ball and was charged with an error. It led to the Pirates scoring two unearned runs to take the lead for good.
“I hate to say it because it’s not an excuse, but it’s on the learning curve,” Astros manager Brad Mills said. “When you go through it a few times – that’s the first time maybe for C.J. this year – but it’s not the first time some of other infielders, so it’s part of the learning curve we’re going through unfortunately.”
Castro was charged with the error, but Mills said Johnson should have gotten rid of the ball right away instead of hesitating and allowing Jones to get so close to Castro.
“There’s no doubt we have to tighten up some things,” Mills said. “It’s kind of something that was happening early in the year when we weren’t scoring enough runs to make up for those mistakes. That’s kind of the way it was today.”
Don’t give up on the Astros just yet. No, I’m not predicting an unbelievable second-half surge that leads them into the playoffs, but this team is worth watching. Jason Castro is worth watching, and so are Chris Johnson and Jason Bourgeois.
The Astros are younger and more exciting than they were 10 days ago, thanks to the arrival of Castro, Johnson and Bourgeois, who were brought up when Kevin Cash, Casey Daigle and Cory Sullivan were designatd for assignment on June 23.
Johnson is hitting .414 in his seven starts since being recalled, including a pair of four-hit games. The Astros had no four-hit games before Johnson, and eventually Michael Bourn on Monday, did the trick. For the season, Johnson is batting .333 with eight RBIs in 51 at-bats and has pushed Feliz to the bench. Sure, he’s struggled on defense, but he should get better with experience.
Then there’s Castro, who has shown great patience in the plate and poise behind it in his Major League debut. He’s hitting .231 with one home run, but he’s handled the staff nicely — guiding Wandy Rodriguez to back-to-back wins — and has thrown out four of the seven runners who have tried to steal against him.
Bourgeois has bounced around between a couple of organziations, but perhaps he’s found a home in his native Houston. He’s hitting .312 in limited action, but he gives the Astros an exciting speedster off the bench.
There’s no doubt all three of these guys are going to go through growing pains, but the fact they’re here and getting the chance to show what they can do is enough reason to come to the ballpark.
“I love it,” Astros closer Matt Lindstrom said. “I think it’s what we need right now, a good balance of veterans and young guys who are hungry, that will push us a little bit. Obviously they’re very talented and we’re excited to have them contribute. Hopefully we can expect this [during] the next three months and see where we go.”
Rookie catcher Jason Castro started three consecutive games upon making his Major League debut before being out of the lineup Friday against the Rangers. Astros pitchers posted a 1.33 ERA in the three games Castro started behind the plate. Castro said having the ability to study video has been a help.
“I’ve done a lot and really for the first time in my career I have the resources and ability to scout the other team,” Castro said. “We put a lot of work with [pitching coach Brad Arnsberg] and have gone over some footage and talked about plans of attack with each hitter and things like that. It’s been extremely beneficial and really helped me so far. I continue to put that to work in and see similar results.”
Castro will see a familiar face on the mound Saturday. Right-hander Josh Banks will make his first start for the Astros after having his contract purchased from Triple-A Round Rock, where he spent the first two months of the season with Castro.
Banks was 8-5 with a 2.97 ERA in 15 starts for the Express, 13 of which came with Castro behind the plate. Castro made his Major League debut Tuesday.
“He knows me pretty well as far as thinking-wise and gets a lot of different signs and that makes it a little bit easier,” Banks said. “Whoever’s catching, you still have to get on the same page and get as many outs as you can.”
Castro has been impressed with Banks.
“He works really well mixing pitches and spotting up with his fastball and pitching,” he said. “He knows what he’s doing out there and he can really pitch. Hopefully we can get together and get a good game plan going and he can execute with all his pitches. That’s why he’s been successful all this year.”
Banks took the rotation spot of Felipe Paulino, who went on the DL.
“I’ll try and go out there and do the best I can and keep the game in the game,” Banks said. “Whatever happens up there, it’s unfortunate the situation with Paulino going down. It is what it is. I was hoping to keep throwing the ball well and when they needed somebody get the call.”
There’s a good chance the Astros will be starting three rookies in most games the rest of the season. Call it throwing in the towel or looking towards the future, but the bottom line is the Astros had to shake things up. One player said Tuesday it felt like Opening Day all over again, coming to the ballpark and knowing Jason Castro, Chris Johnson and Jason Bourgeois would be in uniform.
The Astros were getting little offensive production from their catchers and had top prospect Castro waiting in the wings. Pedro Feliz has been a huge disappointment at third base since signing as a free agent and with Johnson tearing it up at Triple-A Round Rock, the move made sense. Tommy Manzella has been starting at shortstop since Opening Day and appears to have settled down defensively, while the Astros hope he can make more strides on offense.
Despite the high-price contracts of franchise icons Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt and left-fielder Carlos Lee, the future is the Astros is in their young players. Players like Castro and Johnson and Double-A pitcher Jordan Lyles, who will pitch in the Futures Games this year.
“Obviously when you’re in the situation we are, having gone through a little more than a third of the season and you’re still sucking wind, you get to the point where you’re like, ‘Hey, let’s try something,’” Berkman said. “I think, that’s kind of where we are now at this point.”
Berkman admits he feels old, but not necessarily because he’s surrounded by fresh-faced youngsters.
“I don’t think we’ve had as many young guys as this probably since the early ’90s when Craig [Biggio] and Jeff [Bagwell] and those guys started infusing the organziation with the next wave of new talent,” Berkman said. “You had those playoff teams, good teams in mid ’80s and a few good teams in there and that wave came and went and you’ve got some new guys coming in. I don’t think this is dissimilar. In any organization, you’ve got cycles and it’s time for some of these new guys step in and see what they can do.”
If you follow me on Twitter — and I don’t know why you wouldn’t if you want the latest Astros news — you may remember during Sunday’s game I threw out the stats of catcher Jason Castro and third baseman Chris Johnson. Castro was having a solid season and getting better, and Johnson was simply smoking the ball.
While I was looking at Round Rock’s stats and watching the Astros lose their eighth game in a nine-game span, I couldn’t help but think. Why not? Why not bring Castro and Johnson up and see what they can do? So when the Astros announced after the game they had called up Castro, Johnson and outfielder Jason Bourgeois, it was met with much anticipation in the press box.
“I think we have to see what some of these guys can do,” manager Brad Mills said. ”If they are the ones to go further to go beyond this year then we need to find those answers and we need to find out about it.”
Castro, the first Draft pick of the Ed Wade-Bobby Heck regime to reach the Majors, will get the “lion’s share” of the time behind the plate, according to Mills. In other words, he’s the starter. He’s not coming up here to sit the bench. There are 92 games left in the season, and the Astros need to find out if he can play at the Major League level. Scouts like his defense, the club raves about his game-calling ability, but can he hit? We’ll find out.
Pedro Feliz has been a disappointment at third base, both offensively and defensively. So why not give Johnson a shot? The signing of Feliz in the offseason was a sign the club wasn’t exactly sold on Johnson, especially when you consider they were committed to giving Tommy Manzella the job at shortstop.
Mills said Johnson would get a lot of playing time at third, so it will be interesting how much Feliz plays the rest of the way. Here’s hoping Johnson, unlike last year when he was called up and didn’t play, gets a bulk of the starts so the Astros know what they have going into 2011.
I’d keep Manzella in the lineup, too. He’s making strides on offense and has settled down defensively. Perhaps he winds up starting against left-handers more, but what’s to lose by getting him another 300 at-bats this season?
Bourgeois was tearing it up at Triple-A and may be a late-bloomer. We know he can fly and he gives Mills a different kind of weapon off the bench. Keep in mind Cory Sullivan, who was designated for assignment, was a left-handed hitter and Bourgeois hits right-handed. But Bourgeois can do things Sullivan can’t.
Simply put, this youth movement is exciting. The Astros will never admit to rebuilding, but the arrival of Castro could be a watershed moment in the franchise’s future. And that future is now.
Right-hander Matt Lindstrom was thrilled with easily his best outing of the spring in Tuesday’s win over the Mets. He threw two innings and didn’t allow anyone to reach base while striking out one batter, and manager Brad Mills said the extra work with pitching coach Brad Arnsberg is paying off.
“I thought that was just outstanding,” he said. “He threw six pitches in the first inning and that’s why we wanted to send him out for the second inning to get him some pitches. Arnie is working with him on some things, and the progress he made yesterday was leaps and bounds over his last outing. If we can keep him progressing in right direction, that’s going to build some confidence with him as well.”
Lindstrom has been working with Arnsberg on changing the grip on his slider. The new grip is more tailored to his arm angle so the ball doesn’t pop out of his hands as much. That will allow him to throw the fastball more in the zone.
“I felt like a had a lit better command of my slider and that makes a big difference when I’m throwing it for strikes and using it the way I know,” Lindstrom said. “The new grip with Arnsberg is something I feel comfortable with. It worked out good and you have to continue to build on it and feel more comfortable with it.”
Here are some other tidbits from this camp this morning:
- Right-hander Brandon Lyon is scheduled to throw another 30-pitch side session Wednesday. Lyon, who hasn’t faced a batter this spring after having a cyst on his throwing shoulder drained, could throw live batting practice Friday if all goes well. Stay tuned for updates.
- Catcher Jason Castro was sent home with a case of the stomach flu. He wasn’t scheduled to start on Wednesday, and Mills said he hoped he would be able to make his start Thursday against Washington: “He’s got the stomach thing a couple of guys had in the bullpen the past week,” he said. “We sent him home, and hopefully it’s a one-day thing, which we think it is.” Castro is 6-for-12 this spring.
- Right-handed reliever Alberto Arias, who left Tuesday’s game with a mild strain in his upper back/neck/shoulder area, won’t throw for a couple of days. The plan is for Arias to get checked out Friday when the team doctors come to town. “We’re going to back him off and he’ll see a doctor on Friday and then we’ll go from there,” Mills said. “If it is something that needs to be calmed down, it will have a day to calm down before the doctors get here.”
I’m back in town, but still on vacation technically until Thursday. In the meantime, Spring Training is casting a rather large shadow over me and everyone else who’s going to be in Florida in a little more than two weeks, so it’s time to look ahead. No more mention of Miguel Tejada or Jose Valverde.
The Astros figure to have several intriguing storylines this spring, from a new manager in Brad Mills and several new members of the coaching staff, to key new faces in Brandon Lyon, Matt Lindstrom, Brett Myers and Pedro Feliz. Then there’s younger players that are expected to make an impact, including a pair of rookies who could start: shortstop Tommy Manzella and catcher Jason Castro.
There are other interesting players who aren’t going to make headlines at camp: Chia-Jen Lo, Fernando Abad, Gary Majewski, Cory Sullivan, Jason Bourgeois, etc. I am going to be tracking the progress of all, but I am most intrigued by Manzella and Castro, and that’s simply because they could play huge roles. In fact, the club is banking on Manzella to do just that in April and Castro at some point this year to be a factor.
Which players are you, the fans, most excited about seeing?