The 10th overall selection in the 2008 draft, Jason Castro has quickly established himself as the top prospect in the Astros organization. A 21-year-old catcher who played his college ball at Stanford, Castro made his professional debut with Tri-City in the short-season New York-Penn League, where he hit .275/.383/.384. The left-handed-hitting backstop continued to impress in the recently completed Hawaiian Winter Baseball League, hitting .324/.429/.473 with two home runs in 74 at-bats for the North Shore Honu. Castro talked with David about his approach to the game and the Stanford baseball experience when Tri-City visited Lowell in the final weeks of the regular season.
David Laurila: How would you describe Jason Castro?
Jason Castro: I like to think of myself as one of the leaders on the team. I try to set an example by the way I play. I’m not a big vocal leader, but I like to think that the way I play sets an example a little bit. I’m a left-handed-hitting catcher, so I like to pride myself on my defensive game as well as my offensive game. I like to do things in situations to try to help the team, and I’m more of a gap hitter; gap-to-gap with some power. That’s pretty much me as a player.
DL: How about away from the field?
JC: As a person, I’m a pretty outgoing guy. I like to think of myself as being pretty friendly, and I get along with the guys in the clubhouse really well. I like to go out of my way to do things for people if they need things to get done.
DL: You were drafted out of high school by the Red Sox in 2005, but didn’t sign. Do you ever wonder where you might be today had you gone that route rather than attending Stanford?
JC: Yeah, I’ve thought about it, but the chance to go to college actually gave me some time to grow and mature a little bit, not only as a person, but as a baseball player. I’ve kind of filled out my body, and I think that the time I spent in college, as compared to signing right out of high school, was probably beneficial for me. I’m happy with where I’m at, and I don’t have any regrets. I thought I had a great experience in college. I learned a lot, not only on the baseball field, but in general, as a person. I learned how to live on my own, and that type of thing. So I’ve matured a lot, and just getting an opportunity to play in the summer leagues also helped to prepare me for life as a minor league baseball player.
DL: What position do you think you’d be playing right now had you not gone to Stanford?
JC: I would probably still be catching. I caught in high school a little bit, and I was drafted as a catcher, so I’m pretty confident that I would have remained a catcher either way, whether I had gone to school or not.
DL: What was the Stanford experience like for you academically?
JC: It was a great experience. It’s obviously a great university; the people are great, and the professors. It was a lot of fun, and I learned a lot. I still look forward to going back and finishing up the little that I have left.
DL: How about the baseball experience at Stanford?
JC: The coaching staff was great. Coach [Mark] Marquess and coach [Dean] Stotz have been there for over 30 years now, and they’re very knowledgeable about the game. During practice and game situations, you learn a lot just from being around those guys, because they’ve been around the game so long. It was definitely beneficial to be there and to experience that.
DL: How would you describe the Stanford hitting philosophy?
JC: Our hitting coach was Dave Nakama, and he mainly works with hitters on a day-to-day basis. Dean Stotz kind of oversees everything, but he actually gives coach Nakama pretty free rein to work with the hitters every day. Coach Stotz has his own ideas about hitting, and if he sees something that he has advice about, or different hitters, or different approaches, he tries to work with the hitters on the side. But their approach-once you get into their program, they start to hammer home the types of things that they like to do. And over the course of your career there, at Stanford, it will definitely pay off. The things they teach you aren’t necessarily going to bring success right away, but they’re the types of things that will benefit you in the long run, if you take what they say to heart.
DL: What are some of the components of their hitting philosophy?
JC: A lot of the things that they teach are to get on top of the ball, and to hit the ball hard on a line and not try to worry about home runs, and things like that; those things will come. They’re also big on getting your foot down early, making sure you’re seeing pitches, and making sure you’re balanced. Definitely coming into pro ball now, and seeing guys that throw a little harder on a daily basis, those types of things have kind of helped me in the transition from college baseball to professional.
DL: Talking about your decision to go to Stanford, you once said in an interview, “There is such a small-percentage chance that I’ll make it to the big leagues.” How do you view your chances now?
JC: I think that there is a greater percentage for people who-and I don’t know if this is a proven fact-have gone to college. They have a greater chance to make it to the big leagues, and stay. As a person, I feel that’s true in my case. I’m much more mature, both physically and mentally, when it comes to dealing with playing every day and the struggles of professional baseball. The type of game that baseball is, is to deal with failure. Going through college, and having that experience, has definitely prepared me, more so than high school, to come out and handle this type of lifestyle.
DL: What was more stressful for you: the days leading up to the draft, or your first game in pro ball?
JC: I don’t know; that’s pretty tough. The days leading up to the draft were definitely exciting. I had the benefit of us still being in the playoffs at the time; we were just finishing Regionals and heading into the Super Regionals. It was an exciting time, and something that I’d looked forward to since I was a little kid, and to have that dream come true was pretty special. But the chance to actually get out on the field once the draft was over, and college baseball was over, was definitely an exciting experience, too.
DL: What was the draft process itself like?
JC: It wasn’t too bad. I talked with quite a few teams, and at the time of the draft itself, I was actually on an airplane down to Cal State Fullerton to play them in the Super Regionals, so I didn’t get to see the draft or hear my name called, or anything like that. It was kind of nerve-wracking, a little bit, sitting on the plane and not knowing what had transpired, but in the end it was well worth it.
DL: At which point did you know that you were going to sign?
JC: I had been talking with Houston ever since the day of the draft. They contacted me and let me know that I had been selected by the Astros, and they actually allowed me to finish out the college season, to play in the College World Series; they let me have that time, pretty much, without any pressures to get a deal done quickly, or anything. So it all worked out very well. Once the college baseball was over and we were done with the World Series, then we starting talking with the Astros a little bit. A few weeks after that, we had gone through some negotiations, and we felt like it was the right time. I didn’t want to sit out too long; I was ready and anxious to get out and play.
DL: You played in the Cape Cod League. What was that experience like?
JC: It was a great experience. It taught me a lot: seeing the high level of competition every day, day in and day out. It definitely taught me that the level of play out there is not only what is in your area, or in your college conference, but nationwide. And as a player, and as a person, you’re surrounding yourself in such a rich baseball tradition. You realize the type of players who have played there before you. And getting to go to Fenway Park, and take batting practice there, was pretty special. It definitely makes you appreciate the things that you have.
DL: How many big-league ballparks have you been to?
JC: I’ve been to a few. I grew up going to A’s and Giants games; I was at Fenway when I was out on the Cape, and I’ve been to Dodger Stadium down in Los Angeles. Other than that, I haven’t been to too many. My favorite is definitely Fenway. It’s got a great atmosphere, and there’s the history of baseball that has taken place there. I got to go up on the Green Monster, and that was pretty cool.
DL: You’ll be playing in the Hawaiian Winter League after the New York-Penn League season ends. What are your expectations for Hawaii?
JC: I’m actually really excited to go. I’ve been to Hawaii before, but to get the opportunity to play baseball almost every day in Hawaii, especially in the wintertime, is going to be a great experience. Talking to some of the friends I have through baseball, there are going to be some people I know playing there as well. It should be a great experience, and I’m really looking forward to it. It will only help me get better.