Jason Castro was dubbed the Astros catcher of the future as soon as he was drafted in 2008, but it didn't become official until he joined the big club in June of 2010. Ten days after his arrival, the Astros front office cut ties with both Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt.
The move officially began the youth movement in Houston. In the course of two weeks, Ed Wade and the Astros went from a team of disgruntled veterans to a team peach-fuzzed, curly-haired prospects. Except not really. But such moves were necessary, the trades and call-ups provided the Astros with a sense of rejuvenation.
Castro was integral to the new nucleus in town. The Astros were gaining a sense of chemistry that had been long absent for a long time. Hunter Pence, Brett Wallace, and Chris Johnson all started to gel. Players became more relaxed, and more importantly, things became routine for the young players. With the new core in place, the Astros soon found themselves playing winning baseball. Castro immediately meshed well with the pitching staff, and the results were noticeable.
Wandy Rodriguez saw his ERA drop from 4.97 to 2.11. Bud Norris’s BAA dropped from .285 down to .235, and as a result his ERA dropped by nearly two runs. Nelson Figueroa had the best year of his career; his 3.22 ERA was one and a half runs lower than his career average. And Brett Myers ended his stellar year by going 8-2 in the second half, also lowering his ERA by nearly a run. I can’t imagine any of the pitchers not liking Castro’s calls behind the plate.
The Astros were finally on the rise. Some (okay, one) even predicted them to go to the playoffs. And just as the Astros were gaining momentum, Jason Castro tore his ACL while running out a ground ball in Spring Training.
Houston fans should've seen it coming. The Astros took a huge hit and the season had yet to begin. Already, Ed Wade was forced to return to the killer duo that is Humberto Quintero and J.R. Towles. Wade looked for any type of replacement. Rumors swirled around Ryan Doumit, Jesus Flores, Ham from Sandlot, and any catcher that might possibly be available. But Wade couldn't find anyone at the price the Astros desired.
Fun Fact: the Astros even signed Kevin Cash in 2010 to avoid the duo. Yes. That’s how bad it got.
J.R Towles was given the opening day nod in ’08; he lasted just 50 games before getting demoted. He hit .137 and saw his strikeouts rise by 25%, so it's understandable why the Astros wanted to stay away from him. And how Humberto Quintero has been on the Astros roster for seven years baffles me. Seven! But it’s nice to see the Astros still reaping benefits from the Tim Redding trade.
But to their credit, both Quintero and Towles looked different this spring. Towles hit .300 with an OBP of .350 and Quintero hit a scorching .471 and had and OBP of .500. Quintero had an overwhelming spring and deserved the starting job. This wasn’t the most ideal situation for the Astros, but it was going to have to work.
Perhaps spring training was a sign of more things to come. Or perhaps Quintero and Towles will sink back into mediocrity. But with Castro out for the year, Quintero and Towles have done more just than pick up the slack. For the first time since Brad Ausmus, the Astros finally had a catcher with some offensive value. Kidding. But J.R. Towles is currently tearing the cover off the ball, hitting .391 and has an OBP of .500. Quintero isn’t doing quite as well, but he’s still hitting .270 and has an OBP of .325, both nearly 40 points above his career averages.
Quintero and Towles are making the Castro news easier to swallow, and let us not forget how much Jason Castro struggled at the plate last year. Castro managed to hit just over the Mendoza line at .205 and more often than not looked uncomfortable at the plate. Castro may be the Astros' heralded savior and defensive specialist, but I don’t know if he’d be outdoing either Humberto Quintero or J.R Towles right now.