The last time the Houston Astros had a Rookie of the Year was in 1991 when Jeff Bagwell won the acolade.
Now, a star is rising through Houston’s minor league system, a catcher named Jason Castro. It’s possible Castro could be Houston’s next candidate for Rookie of the Year.
This is encouraging news, especially since Pudge Rodriguez is in the twilight of a career, one that could end in Cooperstown (or at the very least, the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame). Humberto Quintero is Pudge’s backup, but “Q-Berto” hasn’t exactly excelled with his bat.
Jason Castro has thrown out around 49 percent of would-be base stealers in the minor leagues, showing a great arm. He’s hitting in the .290s at Houston’s Double-A affiliate, the Corpus Christi (Texas) Hooks, and has shown qualities that will earn him respect in the clubhouse.
So, now the thing to do is to whisk Castro away to the majors and let him become Houston’s next great star, right?
I have no doubt that Castro can become the next great Houston baseball player, but I’m weary of him succumbing to the Eric Anthony Syndrome
Years ago, back in the late 1980s, after power-hitting first baseman Glenn Davis was traded to the Baltimore Orioles. Houston desperately needed power hitting. Problem was, it was tough to recruit power-hitters to play in the spacious Astrodome. A building where fly balls didn’t carry, and 420-foot home runs in other ballparks died at the warning track.
Enter Eric Anthony, whose story sounded like something straight out of the script for The Natural. According to a Sports Illustrated article from April 1990, Anthony went from an 18-year-old high school drop out working an assembly line to a star minor leaguer in just four years.
He went to an Astros tryout, and stunned Astros scouts during batting practice by launching one home run after another. Not just homers that cleared the fence, but artillery shots that landed well beyond 400 feet from home plate.
Seeing this young strong talent, Houston drafted him in the 34th round of the 1986 amateur draft. In the minors, he tore through A and Double-A pitching, launching distant home runs. Averaging 120 strikeouts per season, along with 30 homers.
Needing power-hitters, the Astros took a gamble and called Anthony up to the majors in 1989 from Double-A ball. He got his first major league hit—a home run—in his second game. The homerun, a 414-foot homer off San Francisco Giant Rick Reuschel, easily cleared the Astrodome fences. Later that game, he just missed another home run on an opposite-field shot that caromed off the top of the wall for a double.
The next year, while watching an Astros game, I saw Anthony do something that showed his potential to become one of the game's all-time great power-hitters.
Against the San Diego Padres in the Astrodome, Anthony hit a check-swing fly ball to left-center field. I know what you’re thinking—a bloop single or a short fly ball out.
Anthony’s check-swing fly ball caromed off the top of the 380 sign and darn near went for a home run.
That’s some serious power. Imagine how far it would've gone had he swung full tilt.
Earlier that season, Anthony electrified Houston in a game against the Chicago Cubs by launching a home run into the right field upper deck—the first Astro ever to put a home run there. The pitch traveled an estimated 440 feet.
Anthony seemed destined to become Houston’s next great slugger. All he needed was a little more seasoning at Triple A. Instead, he was kept at the Major League level.
The next season, the now-defunct Grand Slam magazine made this assessment about Anthony’s talent: “True, he’ll pulverize [pitching] mistakes, but Eric Anthony has yet to show he can handle Major League pitches that aren’t mistakes.”
As it turned out, that assessment was spot-on.
Anthony indeed loved to swing his bat, and pitchers learned quickly. Why throw him something he could hit 500 feet when he’ll swing at pitches that aren’t even near the strike zone?
Hitting home runs at the A and Double-A level is one thing, but an over-eager power-hitter will get fried at the Majors. That’s what happened to Anthony as he struggled at the plate. Houston traded him away, and a career that could’ve been great turned into a painful lesson.
Yes, Jason Castro looks like he could become the future cornerstone for Houston, but I sincerely hope that if he shows signs of not being ready for Big League play, that Houston will let him get some further seasoning at Round Rock.
The Major Leagues can be very brutal, and I hope Houston plays their cards right with Castro.