It wasn’t the first hit of Chris Johnson‘s career, but it may have been the most important one. For when the young third baseman hit a sharp line drive to center field off of the Giants’ Tim Lincecum, it may have signaled the beginning of an era.
Johnson (26) was called up after the Astros’ mind-numbing series sweep in Texas, and it seems that this time, it may be for good. After a year of speculation that he might become the regular starter at third base – a year that saw such luminaries as Aaron Boone and Geoff Blum man the third sack for the big leaguers, Johnson largely stayed in Triple-A Round Rock, where all he did was go .281/.323/.461 while improving defensively and battling a hand injury.
But if the Houston Astros are going to move forward as an organization, Johnson is going to be a key component of the transition from old to new. For a team weak on minor league depth, it was important that he show he could produce as the starter. And for the foreseeable future, he is the Astros’ third baseman.
Another key player in the Astros’ future, catcher Jason Castro, was also called up and started today’s game. In just his second plate appearance, Castro ripped a Lincecum curveball into center field for his first big league hit.
Despite his ranking as Baseball America’s #41 prospect in all of baseball, Castro was slow to win me over. I still think that first baseman Justin Smoak, now of the Rangers, would have been a better draft pick; and I still think that Koby Clemens is getting kind of a raw deal; but Castro has won me over – while I still think that there’s a future for Clemens in the organization, it won’t be as the everyday catcher (the Astros have tried him out at many positions in the minors, including left field and third base – his natural position – and now first base).
Because Jason Castro, in addition to playing a solid game behind the plate and producing at the plate, brings a very good batter’s eye to the game, as evidenced by an OBP that has never fallen below .362 for a season at any level of professional baseball.
This year in Round Rock, 23-year-old Castro has walked 32 times in 244 plate appearances. That’s 7.625 trips to the plate for every walk. Compare that to last year’s big league club, where only 1B Lance Berkman (5.794) did better.
So welcome aboard, boys. I’m sure you’re just the first of several who will get called up this season. But we’re sure glad to have ya.