Joe Mauer. Carlos Santana. Jason Castro. Last year, with the Astros moving to the AL, Castro joined a group of catchers who saw increased playing time thanks to the option to slot in at DH on days he wasn't catching. In 2013, Castro posted career highs in just about every statistical category and, while his rate stats improved as well, the boost in counting numbers can be largely attributed to more at bats. Despite missing almost all of September; Castro hit 18 home runs, drove in 56 runs and scored 63 runs in 491 plate appearances. Those numbers ranked 7th, 13th and 4th respectively among catchers with at least 350 plate appearances.
Some thought Castro was a reach as the 10th overall pick in the 2008 draft mainly due to concerns over the fact that he hadn't seen much time as a catcher (although his athleticism was thought to give him a chance to stick there) and the utility of his power tool. Obviously, Castro stuck behind the plate and last year we saw him tap into his power potential and turn it into usable power. Last year, Castro's fly ball percentage jumped more than 5% to 35.3% and his HR/FB rate went from 10% in 2012 to 16.5% in 2013. He ended the year with an ISO over .200 and hit 35 doubles showing that it wasn't just the home runs but overall power that improved. Throw in the fact that Castro's average distance on fly balls increased by 20 feet (271 feet in 2012 vs. 291 feet in 2013) and it would seem that the breakout is legit.
Looking a little closer, we can see a possible change in approach for Castro. Like many former Stanford players, Castro employs a line drive swing designed to produce high batting averages. Last season, however, he seemed to add a little more loft to his swing, although the Elevation Angle on his home runs would suggest they weren't of the towering variety. In 2012, 27.5% (a number well above league average) of Castro's balls in play were line drives whereas last season that number came down to 25%. He also hit fewer ground balls and, as previously mentioned, increased his FB% to a career high 35%. We can also look at Castro's spike in strikeout rate and more importantly his swinging strike percentage and infer that it's a possibility that he sacrificed some of his contact to "swing for the fences". If that is the case, it worked. According to ESPN's home run tracker, the "True" distance of Castro's home runs increased from 374 feet in 2012 to 396 feet in 2013. Granted, Castro only hit 6 home runs in 2012 but that's a significant change. Also, the average speed with which the ball came off of Castro's bat last season was 104.5 mph - more than 5 miles per hours greater than the year before.
Photo credit: Jonathan Daniel
For Castro, adding power boosts an already strong offensive profile. Castro has always shown a keen eye at the plate boasting a career BB% of 10.3%. He sprays the ball to all fields and, although he hits right handers a little better than he does lefties, his platoon splits aren't overly concerning. He handles hard and offspeed pitches well and last year he improved his batting average on breaking balls by forty points. Castro posted a .351 BABIP last year which is most likely destined for regression but many who cite regression will expect a huge drop off for Castro and that may not necessarily the case. If we again consider Castro's strong line drive rate, we can reasonably expect Castro to post an above average BABIP. The flip side of that is that the increase in fly balls which has an adverse effect on batting average on balls in play. Even with the increased fly ball percentage in 2013, Castro's expected BABIP (xBABIP) was .360.
The Astros' lineup will probably still be pretty bad this year but the addition of Dexter Fowler should be a boon to the hitters batting behind him. Fowler brings a career .365 OBP to Houston and will slot in nicely at the top of the lineup. Jose Altuve is an above average two-hole hitter and should form a nice top of the lineup for Castro to hit behind. It gets a little dicey after Castro so his runs totals may lag behind his RBIs but both are difficult to predict and I don't think either category will be much above or below average. There are not many catchers who hit in the top half of the lineup but, with hitting third and DHing at times, Castro should get a larger number of at bats and opportunities than many of his counterparts.
Jason Castro might not show up in the top 10 in most catcher rankings lists and that could very well play to your advantage. The BABIP will scare some people. The sudden burst of power will have some players wondering if he is going to pull a Chase Headley. The Astros lineup will also bring detractors. These factors should hold down Castro's ADP and, late barring any huge supporters in your league, allow you to snatch him up. There may not be a catcher with more potential return on investment going into this season.
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Zack Smith is a writer for Fake Teams.
You can follow him on twitter @FantasyNinja8.