VIERA, FL- Neither the Astros nor the Nationals are loaded with upper-level prospcts. So the matchup on Friday afternoon wasn’t a particularly good one for our purposes, but I stopped by because it was sort of on my way up north to watch Ocala Forest High School righty Keyvius Sampson.
Per haps the most well-known prospect who played was Astros’ catching prospect Jason Castro. Castro came in to catch the last three innings and got one at-bat. He was their 1st-round pick out of Stanford last June.
At 6-4, 215, with long limbs, he’s not the prototypical body-type for a catcher. His hips jut out a little bit, but his legs are slender. Catchers with his build are often uncomfortable in the crouch and their hands aren’t as shifty because the levers are so long. Castro does well with what he has and I can see him as an average receiver, or at least adequate. His throwing release is surprisingly short for a big kid and he’s lightning on the glove-to-hand transfer.
In his one at-bat, Castro showed me that he’ll struggle against good hard stuff inside. The lefthanded hitter fouled off an inside fastball in the high-80s and then hit a squibbler groundout to the right side on another. His swing has some length to it though he has average bat-speed and above-average line-drive power.
I scouted Castro as a high school player at Capistrano Valley in southern California. At that time, there weren’t many teams on him and he enrolled at Stanford undrafted in the fall of 2005. The only time I saw him afterward was at the Cape Cod League All-Star game in 2007 where he played first base.
I don’t see him as an all-star or a premium starter, myself. I can see him as a quality backup who can also play first base. The Astros must be high on him, however, to take him tenth overall in the 2008 draft and to put him in big league camp the next spring. Time will tell.
Another Astros prospect worth noting is righthanded reliever Bud Norris. Norris is a hard thrower and another southern California product, having been selected out of the 6th round from Cal Poly in 2006. Norris is a hard thrower, registering in the mid-90s with a little bit of life. He mowed down the Nats in his inning of work, mixing in a hard short-breaking slider that took hitters off stride. Norris’s arm-action works well and his deliver y is smooth, but it’s one of those falling-down deliveries that doesn’t generate much torque or downward momentum from the back. Norris was a starter in Double-A last year and I’d give him a chance to make it up in 2009 as a middle reliever.
Third baseman Chris Johnson came in late to pinch-run and play third base. I didn’t get to see him make any plays or take any swings, but he is one of the ‘Stros best prospects. A 4th-rounder out of Stetson in 2006, Johnson tore apart AA Round Rock last year (324-12-58 in 330 AB) and is also a slick defender.
A couple of older prospects from the Washington Nationals caught my eye. Righthanded pitcher Marco Estrada (yet another southern Californian from Long Beach State) is a 25 year-old 6-0,180 righty with plus pitchability and off-speed. Both his curve and change-up are solid-average 55 pitches and he spots his 88-90 MPH fastball. With an athletic, repeatable delivery, and good arm-action, I think he can pitch a lot of innings. The former 5th-rounder (2005) got a cup of coffee last year for the Nationals in 2009 and I think he has a chance to stick as a swingman pitcher.
Shortstop Alberto Gonzalez has bounced around several organizations and will turn 26 next year. But I was really impressed with him defensively, he made difficult plays in the hole and charging up the middle that displayed his athletic balance and range. Gonzalez also hit a hard line-drive the other way. His minor league success at the plate has been spotty, but I see enough ability that I’d give him a chance to become a useful big leaguer.
The Nationals ended up winning 2-0. What stunned me most about their roster was how many players they had who were once considered “high ceiling” by their former organizations. They are filled with physical specimens who were cast off as underachievers. It’s an interesting way to build a club; I can see a player or three panning out, but it’s hard to have an entire team out of the same mold.
If the rumors are true that General Manager Jim Bowden is out this week, it remains to be seen what direction the franchise follows afterwards.
I didn’t see Bowden at the game, for whatever that’s worth.
Check back later this weekend with blogs about high school phenoms Keyvius Sampson and Mychal Givens as well as more spring training action.