Ismael Castro: Knee at full strength, swing isn't

SAN ANTONIO, Texas - After missing most of last season with a knee injury, Ismael Castro is trying to get his career back on path this season with the San Antonio Missions. It wasn't long ago when he was considered one of the top middle-infield prospects in the Seattle Mariners' organization.

Early last season with the Inland Empire 66ers, Castro knew something wasn't right with his knee.

"Every time I jumped I felt something," he said.

The second baseman assumed it was just a sprain, and continued playing on it. He played through the pain for 16 games until, while running through first base in the ninth inning of a game in the final week of April, he stepped on the bag awkwardly and tore the ACL in his knee.

Surgery was performed on the knee, and a year of rehab was required. Before his season ended last year, he started the year on fire from the plate, hitting .306 with two home runs. He appeared well on his was to making a real name for himself.

Now, after taking the year off, Castro is trying to get his offensive production back to where it once was.

Missions' hitting coach Gary Thurman believes that Castro is returning to form faster than his low batting average (.229 through Wednesday) would indicate.

"It's tough when you take the whole year off to get back into things, and come right back, but he has made a lot of improvements," said Thurman, a former major league outfielder. "He is kind of streaky right now. He is hitting the ball hard, just not getting hits at times. His batting average isn't consistent with the way he is at the plate, and how hard he is hitting the ball."

With Castro having basically missed the entire 2004 season, and this year making the jump to Double-A for the first time in his career, it would be difficult for anyone to come out of the gates swinging a hot bat.

"You really don't expect younger players to make the jump and not experience hard times at the plate, especially with the intellect of the pitchers at this level," Thurman responded.

Castro also admitted that there is some truth to that. "The pitchers at this level are very smart and you can't sit on pitches in certain counts."

Thurman expects Castro to be able to adjust to the quality of pitching at this level in time. With only 105 at bats so far this season, it may be too early to say that Castro is struggling; after all, it is a long season and he will get every opportunity to improve, mainly because of the way he is making plays defensively at second.

"The middle of our defense is solid here at San Antonio, with Castro, Betancourt (shortstop), Rivera (catcher), and the combination of Gary Harris and T.J. Bohn in center," Thurman said.

With Castro, only 21-years-old, feeling increasingly comfortable with the surgically repaired knee every day, it isn't his slow start that should get the bulk of attention. Instead, the focus should remain on his bright future.

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