In this installment of the Players You Forgot Were Astros series, we look at third baseman Vinny Castilla.
The Astros have had several strong third basemen in their history, especially in recent seasons. Alex Bregman, Morgan Ensberg and Ken Caminiti are the headliners, but for less than one full season, they also had a good one in Vinny Castilla.
The Mexican-born Castilla started his career with the Braves before being taken in the 1992 expansion draft by the Rockies. It was in Colorado where he had his best seasons, winning three Silver Sluggers and earning a pair of All-Star appearances.
Specifically, his run from 1995 to 1999 was exceptional. He totaled 192 home runs in those five seasons, including a career-high 46 to go along with 144 RBIs and a .319 average in 1998. But it was him falling on hard times that precipitated his coming to Houston.
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The Rockies traded Castilla to the Devil Rays following the 1999 season. He played in only 85 games in 2000, hitting .221/.254/.308 with six homers. His 2001 season didn’t start any better, as he hit .215/.247/.344 in 24 games. Tampa Bay released him on May 10, and he signed with the Astros five days later.
He spent the remainder of the season with the Astros and played well. In 122 games, he hit .270/.320/.492 with 28 doubles, 23 homers and 82 RBIs. He joined a lineup featuring Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Lance Berkman and Moises Alou, helping the club to a 93-win season and division crown. Unfortunately the team was swept in the Division Series.
He was only signed to a one-year deal, so Castilla hit free agency after the season and signed with the Braves. His first year in Atlanta was poor, and his second was better but unspectacular. He did manage one more strong season with the Rockies in 2004, hitting 35 homers with a league-leading 131 RBIs.
He spent time with the Nationals and Padres before ending his career back in Colorado in 2006. He finished with 320 career homers and a .276/.321/.476 batting line — not a Hall of Fame career by any stretch, but a solid one nonetheless.
For a brief time at least, the Astros had one of the best-hitting third basemen of his generation. Imagine if they had Castilla in his prime along with Bagwell, Biggio, Alou, Richard Hidalgo, etc. That would have been a fearsome lineup, though there’s no way to know if they would have done any better in the postseason.