KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- After he threw out a pair of runners trying to steal second base on Saturday night against the Braves, Astros catcher Jason Castro drew the praise of manager A.J. Hinch, who's stressed holding runners and keeping them from advancing this spring.
"He's noticeably more connected with a lot of his actions behind home plate," Hinch said. "From his game calling to his receiving, he certainly took a step forward. He's a tall catcher, which generally those guys can get into some bad [habits] with getting themselves going during their throwing, where they stand up a little bit too tall just out of natural body length.
"He's really worked hard to stay low with his throws and keep the ball low going down to second base. He's worked really hard."
Castro made huge strides defensively last year, blocking balls and throwing out runners in what was the best defensive season of his career.
"Pitchers have said they were comfortable throwing the ball in the dirt, and at the end of the day that's the ultimate goal, is getting them as comfortable as they can so they know they can throw whatever they want in any situation," Castro said.
The improvements Castro made last year were the result of a different mindset about how he catches. He credits a meeting with Astros baseball development analyst Mike Fast a year ago with helping him think about catching in different ways than he had before. Part of his success also came about because he was more comfortable.
"I had a meeting with Mike Fast last year and he just kind of broke down the catching on video to see how he kind of looks at catching," Castro said. "It's more of an overhead view. He never was a catcher, but he studied catchers a lot, and him kind of explaining stuff from his perspective was in a way I really hadn't looked at catching.
"It gave me another perspective that helped me try to take some different elements from different people's perspectives and backgrounds who are all trying to study catching."
The Astros have focused on having their pitchers be quicker to the plate when there are runners on base this spring, which should benefit Castro's chances of throwing out runners. The Astros allowed 109 stolen bases last year, which was the second-highest total in the American League.
"When you can keep a guy advancing 90 feet, no matter where it is … that can be a huge momentum swing," Castro said.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.