Castro feels at home in return to Minute Maid
Ex-Astros catcher sees similarities between former club and new one
Jason Castro is more familiar with Minute Maid Park than most opposing players.
The Minnesota Twins catcher, an Astros firstround draft pick in 2008, played six seasons in Houston before signing a three-year deal with his new club last November.
But Friday night he returned to the ballpark feeling out of place.
“I’ve actually never been on this side before so I didn’t really know where I was going when I got here,” Castro said. “I knew that if I walked across the field that would be my best shot to this side. It’s definitely weird though; the dugouts are mirror images of each other.”
Called up from the minors in 2010, Castro was an integral piece of a young Astros core that lost 111 games in 2013 during a franchise rebuild. Two years later, he was part of a 2015 playoff run that was a turning point for a club that now has transformed into the best team in the American League.
A free agent at the end of 2016, Castro, 30, joined the Twins, the latest 100plus loss franchise seeking his expertise. As last year’s worst team, the Twins recorded 103 losses and missed the postseason for the sixth consecutive year. Twins no slouch
While the team Castro helped build looks toward a potential World Series bid the first year after his departure, the Twins also are exceeding expectations in 2017. At the All-Star break, they emerged as surprise contenders, hovering two games above .500 and, after Saturday, are just 1½ games behind the Cleveland Indians for first place in the AL Central.
Castro said he saw the same potential in the Twins’ clubhouse that he noticed in the Astros.
“I knew there was a lot of talent here, and I knew we could be good in a lot shorter time frame,” Castro said.
“This team reminded me a lot of where the Astros were I think probably in 2015, as we had kind of made that rebound after the rebuild years. I think the complete tear down that Houston went through was a little bit unique. … From last year to this year, I think it was just an anomaly (for Minnesota). It wasn’t necessarily that the talent wasn’t here.”
Castro credits the jump the Twins’ younger stars like All-Star third baseman Miguel Sano, right fielder Max Kepler and pitcher Jose Berrios have made as driving factors en route to a 46-44 start.
“I think we put ourselves in a pretty good spot in the first half,” Castro said. “If we can stay healthy, keep our bats in the lineup and keep our rotation together, I think we should be fine.”
After batting .232 with 212 RBIs in 617 games with the Astros from 2010 through 2016, Castro has struggled at the plate as a Twin, posting a .217 batting average through 65 games.
Castro was scratched last week against Baltimore with neck spasms but was back after the AllStar break, going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts Friday and 0-for-2 with two walks and two whiffs Saturday. ‘It’s good to be back’
The Astros have dominated the Twins this year, winning the first four meetings between the two sides by five or more runs entering Saturday, but Castro has enjoyed the visit.
The Astros were the only organization he had ever known. He is adjusting to a new perspective.
“Being on this side is a little bit different,” Castro said. “But it’s good to be back, for sure.”
With two runners and a chance to extend a 4-2 lead in the top of the sixth Saturday, Castro struck out looking at a low pitch on a 3-2 count. Castro thought it was a walk and flipped his bat to the opposing dugout thinking it was ball four.
He stepped over home plate and headed toward a dugout that still felt unfamiliar.
Catcher Jason Castro was with the Astros from 2010-16, leaving as a free agent to join the Twins on a threeyear deal during the offseason.