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It’s certainly not easy to be an Astros fan right now. The team loses two games for every one they win. The only legitimate star coming into this season was Jose Altuve, a diminutive infielder who can reach base with ease, though run production requires a bit of help from others.
The Astros did invest in some sluggers, but Carlos Pena is well past his prime and Chris Carter is very flawed with his .216 career average in 501 career at bats. At the hot corner Matt Dominguez has earned a solid reputation for his fine work with the glove and his seven home runs are a pleasant surprise, though his .277 on base percentage is less than adequate.
The pitchers aren’t exactly booming either as four of the five Astros starters have ERAs well over 5.00 with Bud Norris sporting a team-best 3.71 ERA though his 1.51 WHIP suggests that he’s been a bit lucky so far. Closer Jose Veras has been inconsistent, blowing three saves already this season, also picking up the losses in all three of those disastrous outings.
Alas, there has been one pleasant surprise this season that will allow Astros fans to keep track at the Major League level rather than scour websites for minor league statistics. Backstop Jason Castro is developing into a fine Major Leaguer.
Once lauded as a top prospect, Castro was drafted by the Astros out of Stanford with the 10th pick of the 2008 draft. In 2009, he participated in the MLB All-Star Futures Game and ranked as the 53rd best prospect according to Baseball America. Though he hit a single in his first Major League at bat against Tim Lincecum, Castro’s run did not last long as he struggled for much of 2010, then tore his ACL prior to the 2011 season.
On May 28, 2012 Castro had reached a nadir, as his average tumbled to .209 through 97 career games. He had just three home runs, all on off-speed pitches, and his slugging percentage was a miserable .298. After a few days off, Castro started on May 31 and an impressive turnaround commenced. The Astros backstop had two hits including a triple. Since then, Castro has been a .280 hitter with 11 home runs and a very healthy .458 slugging in 99 games.
The key to Castro’s turnaround has been his ability to hit the fastball. After hitting just .195 against heaters in his first 96 games with no home runs, Castro has since smacked five long balls with a .279 average. He also remains a very capable hitter against off-speed pitches with a .281 batting clip and solid .496 slugging percentage over the last 99 games.
There has been a major difference in Castro’s mechanics as well, as he put a whopping 76% of balls in play in the air through May 27th of last season. Since then that number has dropped to 59%, with a healthy 41% ground balls.
While Castro is much-improved and fresh off a breakout week that included 12 hits in 22 at bats with six runs, three home runs, and five RBI, the Astros rising star is far from a finished product. He is still chasing too many pitches above the strike zone, where he has just one hit in 15 career at bats. He is also remains useless against left-handers, forcing the Astros to bench him to avoid his .161 batting clip this season.
Of course, Astros fans know beggars can’t be choosers and the fact remains that the 25-year-old catcher is certainly a bright spot for the organization. Much like several other Astros regulars, Castro will have to learn on the fly, but so far there have been some bright spots along the way.