Jason Castro has lived the complete Major League Baseball rebuilding process. Except the best part. A first round pick out of Stanford by Houston in 2008, Castro debuted with the Astros in 2010 and became their fulltime catcher in 2013. In that season, Houston posted a dismal 51-111 mark, earning the nickname, “Lastros.”
After posting 70 wins in 2014, Houston won 86 games in 2015 and earned a Wild Card berth, where they defeated the Yankees (yes, it’s possible) before falling to Kansas City in a dramatic ALDS. In what has become the “strip the team down to the studs” model to build a winner, Houston used its young talent to capture a World Series championship in 2017.
Castro meanwhile, joined the Twins as free agent prior to the 2017 campaign. After a solid first year in Minny, the Casto Valley, CA native suffered a torn meniscus in 2018 and appeared in just 19 games.
So far this season however, Castro is back and better than ever, hitting .263/.360/.566 with 8 homers in 114 plate appearances. The 31-year-old catcher and I chatted last week.
DZ: Well, right now, obviously the team’s doing well, your numbers are great. Just talk about how great the season’s going for you.
CASTRO: It’s been nice. We’ve been off to a strong start and kind of been as consistent as we could of hoped, so it’s been a lot of fun up to this point. Really, we’re just focused on not trying to get too far ahead of ourselves, continue to just play our type of baseball, and let everything else kind of take care of itself.
DZ: Did you ever get the feeling, like back in spring training, this team could be really good?
CASTRO: Yeah, I mean the additions we made in the spring, I was kind of surprised that we were able to make the additions that we were with teams. We took advantage of some situations where teams were cutting ties with guys that were looking for – Cron and Schoop. Those were huge pick-ups for us. They were showing what they were capable of this year, and getting Marwin and Nelly in here, it’s been fun. Kind of been firing on all cylinders. Everyone’s been contributing at some point, so we knew early on that we were capable of this.
DZ: Obviously this year, you’re coming back from a pretty serious knee injury. Is that kind of make it even more special just having to sit out all the time?
CASTRO: You know, for me that was knee surgery number four. Pretty frustrating having to miss so much time, but I think at the same time, it was kind of a blessing in disguise. It allowed me to kind of take a step back and evaluate myself in things I thought I needed to do to get back to where I wanted to be offensively and defensively. I felt like I really took advantage of that time off, and when I was able to start doing stuff, really focus myself on making those adjustments and been happy with it so far.
DZ: What’s it like when you’re injured like that, and you’re away from the team rehabbing?
CASTRO: So I wasn’t traveling, but I was here in Minnesota and doing a lot of rehab here. I was around the team whenever they were at home, but it’s not the same as if you’re active and healthy. It’s tough. Obviously, you want to be there with the guys, but it made it a little bit better being around when they were at home.
DZ: And you and Mitch (Garver) are both having great years. You guys kind of feed off each other…
CASTRO: Definitely, yeah, he’s been a great partner behind the dish to work with. We are constantly throwing stuff back and forth at each other, and making sure we are staying on track with our defensive work and scanner report stuff, working with our pitchers, things we see out of different guys that might creep up here in the year. It’s been a lot of fun. He’s been a nice teammate to have.
DZ: You were with the Astros when they built up what is a great team now. Does this team remind you of them at all?
CASTRO: Yeah, I mean when I first signed here especially, ’17, it reminded me a lot of coming from some of those Houston teams that I played for, but I think at that point, this team was already a few steps beyond where I had left off with Houston. I think we’ve seen that it was kind of a down year last year, but a lot of contributions from guys that are just establishing themselves. We got Polanco, Kepler, and Rosie and Buxton’s back to doing what he should be doing, so it’s been a lot of fun as a great core group of guys here.
DZ: Was it hard to watch them win the World Series the year after you left?
CASTRO: Sure, obviously I played with all of those guys. Having been there the year before and then not the next year, that was tough, but I was really happy for all those guys. I’m still friends with a lot of those guys, so I was happy for them having a few of those guys were with me in the very early stages of that rebuild, so them being able to see it all the way through was pretty cool for them. But I was thankful for the opportunity I had here and that’s what we’re looking to do here this year.
DZ: I saw an interview with Dallas Keuchel a couple years ago. I believe he said you were his best friend. You guys keep in touch a lot still or?
CASTRO: Yeah, we still keep in touch. I just talked to him a few days ago. I was happy to see that he finally signed, obviously, not under the same circumstances with which he should have, but he’s back on a baseball field and the game is better for him for sure.
DZ: One quick thing, everyone’s talking about Joe Mauer obviously, they’re going to retire his number. Did you get a chance to talk catching with him a lot while he was here?
CASTRO: Oh yeah, a lot. Obviously, he wasn’t catching anymore, but just picking his brain, he is the constant professional. Just everything that he stood for as a player and as a person was pretty much the best that I’ve ever seen or come across. So to have a guy like that in a clubhouse on your team is pretty special. I think guys took advantage of that and tried to learn from him whenever they could.