Twins sign Cas­tro to three­year deal

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Dave Camp­bell

MIN­NEAPO­LIS >> The Min­nesota Twins badly need to im­prove their pitch­ing staff, with a team ERA that ranked among the three worst in the ma­jors in five of the last six sea­sons.

Help can come from all cor­ners of the or­ga­ni­za­tion, in­clud­ing be­hind the plate. That’s why the Twins signed for­mer Houston Astros catcher Ja­son Cas­tro to a three-year con­tract worth $24.5 mil­lion, a deal agreed to last week and fi­nal­ized Wednesday.

“We feel this is a great step in the right direc­tion to build­ing the team that we set out to build,” chief baseball of­fi­cer Derek Falvey said.

Cas­tro will make $8.5 mil­lion in 2017, $8 mil­lion in 2018 and $8 mil­lion in 2019. He be­came a free agent af­ter six sea­sons with the Astros, hit­ting .232 with 114 dou­bles, 62 home runs, 212 RBIs and 215 walks in 617 ca­reer games af­ter be­ing drafted in the first round out of Stan­ford in 2008.

“I def­i­nitely know that this or­ga­ni­za­tion is ca­pa­ble of do­ing some great things,” Cas­tro said. “They have a lot of young re­ally good ta­lent and some vet­er­ans thrown in the mix that can make for a spe­cial group.”

The Twins fin­ished 59103, their worst record in Min­nesota and the worst in the ma­jor leagues in 2016. Cas­tro ex­pe­ri­enced some sim­i­lar grow­ing pains with a young Astros team that lost 106, 107 and 111 games from 2011-13 be­fore mak­ing the play­offs in 2015.

“Look­ing at their ros­ter and the pitch­ers that they have here, I think that this group is a lit­tle bit ahead of where the Astros were,” Cas­tro said on a con­fer­ence call with Min­nesota re­porters.

Kurt Suzuki be­came a free agent af­ter serv­ing as Min­nesota’s pri­mary catcher over the last three sea­sons, in­clud­ing an All­Star se­lec­tion in 2014 when he bat­ted a ca­reer-high .288. Suzuki’s ca­reer av­er­age is 24 points higher than Cas­tro’s, and the left­handed hit­ting Cas­tro bat­ted only .210 with 11 homers and 32 RBIs last year. He was an All-Star in 2013, when he hit a ca­reer-best .276 with 18 home runs and 56 RBIs.

The new­est Twins back­stop is con­sid­ered an up­grade on de­fense, though, in terms of both field­ing his po­si­tion and han­dling a pitch­ing staff. Cas­tro threw out 24 per­cent of base-steal­ers last year, and Suzuki had a 19 per­cent suc­cess rate. Plus, there are the ar­eas of game plan­ning and game call­ing, each dif­fi­cult to quan­tify.

“We feel Ja­son is one of the best at that,” Falvey said, adding: “I’ve cer­tainly ob­served and wit­nessed that the im­pact of catch­ers who com­mit to that side of the game ... has an ex­po­nen­tially pos­i­tive ef­fect on the pitch­ing staff.”

Fram­ing pitches, a sneaky skill that has drawn more at­ten­tion in re­cent years through the rise in an­a­lyt­i­cal eval­u­a­tion and avail­able data in the sport, is an­other one of Cas­tro’s strengths.

“The goal at the end of the day is to try to help your pitcher keep as many strikes as pos­si­ble,” Cas­tro said, “just to be al­most as un­rec­og­nized as pos­si­ble be­hind the plate to al­low the pitcher’s work to speak for it­self.”

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