TEMPE, Ariz. -- Over the past two seasons, the Angels have featured a myriad of faces behind the catcher’s mask to receive their pitching staff. But with one fell swoop during the offseason, the addition of Jason Castro provided an answer to the revolving door at the catcher position.
While the club’s starting rotation figures to be vital to its success during 2020, having an established veteran in Castro to receive them is arguably as crucial. Not only are some of the faces on the rubber new to Angels fans, they’re new to Castro, who is attempting to get himself up to speed early on in camp.
“[I’m] coming into camp and just getting to know this staff the best that I can,” he said. “I’m trying to catch as many guys as possible. … That’s kind of what I come in trying to do: Learn these guys, see how they work, and see how they work in a game, because sometimes that’s different than the bullpen and what they like to fall back on. [I’m trying to find] things that I can key off of to make sure that they’re staying as consistent as they can.”
Castro, 32, has quickly caught the attention of manager Joe Maddon for his well-rounded acumen.
“There’s everything to like,” Maddon said of his new catcher. “[He’s] bright, engaged. He does so many things well behind the plate.”
For as effusive as Maddon was in his praise, Castro was similarly impressed by what the Angels’ organization has put together heading into the season.
“This is just a good group [of coaches] all-around,” Castro said. “Joe obviously has a reputation that speaks for itself. He’s done a lot in this game, and he’s really highly respected. I’ve played with guys that have played for him and they had nothing but great things to say coming in, and he hasn’t disappointed in any way. … The coaching staff seems to be kind of meshing really well, not only with themselves, but with the players. It’s just a great atmosphere all the way around.”
In addition to his contributions defensively, Castro’s bat should provide the Angels’ lineup with some thump that has been missing over the past decade. Last season, as a member of the Twins, Castro produced a .767 OPS; the last time that a primary Halos backstop exceeded that mark came in 2010 when Mike Napoli did so.
Castro slugged his first home run of the spring during Saturday's 10-3 win over the Giants, a booming blast that plated a trio of runs. He cited the work that he has already done with hitting coach Jeremy Reed and assistant hitting coach John Mallee as being the catalyst for keeping his body in the best position to hit.
“Those guys, they’re hands on and constantly engaging back and forth about what you’re feeling, things to key off of and things to look for to kind of help you get back on track,” Castro said. “It’s been a pleasure to work with everybody.”
Tapping into that power is a focus for Maddon and the staff early in spring.
“We’re working on different items within his swing to really create even more contact because he’s got some serious pop,” Maddon said. “If we can get him to be more efficient situationally, just being able to move the ball when he wants to, that would be the next level of success for him.”
Castro has shown a propensity for the long ball throughout his career, having accrued six double-digit home run campaigns during his time with the Astros and Twins. Signed by the Angels to a one-year deal in January, Castro is expected to serve as the club’s primary catcher in 2020, which means juggling his own offensive production with the success of the pitching staff.
Noting that while “there’s plenty of time” for getting swings in during the early portion of camp, Castro conceded that, “there’s definitely some extra work that catchers have to do just with the different things that we’re responsible for, but that’s part of the job and something that we just expect.”
But while the expectation is that Castro’s left-handed swing will help anchor the lineup behind a middle of the order that will feature sluggers Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, Shohei Ohtani and Justin Upton, Maddon has needed just a handful of weeks during spring camp to deliver his seal of approval for his new catcher.
“As a human being, and what he does for this staff, it’s been outstanding,” he said.