Jason Castro represents hope, and as you probably noticed, the Astros could use some.
His selection in the first round of the 2008 draft symbolized that the reconstruction of the Astros had begun. His first major league hit Tuesday night was another important step in the right direction.
Check out what has happened to our old, bad baseball team. Manager Brad Mills had three rookies in the starting lineup Tuesday and figures to keep them there awhile.
Righthander Jordan Lyles, who was the Astros’ second pick in 2008, may make his major league debut sometime this summer, and by next spring, outfielders Jack Shuck, Brian Bogusevic and Jay Austin could be competing for jobs.
During the Astros’ 3-1 loss to the Giants on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park, five of the eight position players were 27 or under, and these last 92 games will be invaluable playing time for the rookies — Castro, third baseman Chris Johnson and shortstop Tommy Manzella.
Back to Castro. He was the first player taken by a new general manager, Ed Wade, and a new scouting director, Bobby Heck. When Wade was interviewed by Astros owner Drayton McLane eight months earlier, in October 2007, he’d bluntly told McLane that a bunch of poor drafts had put the Astros in a deep hole and that it would take years to fix.
To his credit, McLane admitted he hadn’t always understood the importance of player development, and he has given Wade the resources to rebuild the Astros from the ground up.
Money well spent
In the last three seasons, they’ve invested millions in both international and domestic scouting.
Best of all, they’ve gotten their draft picks signed quickly and on the field.
All that work began by using the 10th pick of that 2008 draft on Castro.
On the night he was selected, he celebrated late into the night by finishing a term paper for one of his classes at Stanford.
When Castro played in baseball’s Futures Game of minor league stars last summer, Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith said he had one of the best throwing arms he’d ever seen on a catcher.
The Astros have no idea if Castro will be a great player or a really good player, but they’re convinced they got it right, that his combination of brains and physical skills will make him one of the franchise’s cornerstone players in the years ahead.
In a perfect world, Castro, who went 1-for-4 in his big league debut Tuesday, would have spent the entire season in the minor leagues polishing the rough edges, getting more and more comfortable.
But Sunday when the Astros dropped to 18 games below .500, they finally conceded that this mix of players was all wrong, that signing Pedro Feliz was a mistake and that they have no chance of contending with Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee and Wandy Rodriguez contributing so little.
The Astros knew a dozen little things would have to go right for them to be respectable this season.
They didn’t know how much offense they would get from second, catcher or short, and they had concerns about the back of the rotation and the bullpen.
But the Astros never guessed this season would come undone because of those three veterans. Now they’ve begun to plan ahead, for 2011 and beyond.
Building for future
It’s up to Mills to create the right kind of environment around the rookies, to nurture them and encourage them and help them deal with the successes and failures that are natural parts of the learning curve.
The Astros are in better shape than you might think. When they lost in 2008 and 2009, there was no help on the horizon and little money to spend. So Wade gambled. On Ivan Rodriguez and Mike Hampton. On Russ Ortiz and LaTroy Hawkins.
Wade collected solid, professional guys, hoping against hope they had one more run left in them. He patched here, and he patched there, and nothing worked.
Here’s hoping that Tuesday represented the beginning of a new era, that the Astros have gotten it right enough times these last three drafts to build something that will last.
Roy Oswalt almost certainly will be traded in the weeks ahead, and Brett Myers might, too. Wade almost certainly is gauging Berkman’s value.
No matter what happens with them, the Astros finally seem to see themselves for what they are instead of what they hope to be. And that’s what Castro represents.