Rusney Castillo is set to make his Major League debut in mere days after signing a record contract for a Cuban defector. Cuban players are the most interesting to project, since the public tends to have about as much information as teams do to process and make a decision on their futures. I started writing this article before Rusney Castillo signed with the Red Sox, with the goal of figuring out how his bat will play in the big leagues. Going forward I will also be contributing in a modest fashion to the robust scouting team that Kiley McDaniel has assembled, with my motivation and experience still focusing on hitters.
As such, this article is a bit of a hybrid between a concise scouting report and my usual shenanigans breaking down available videos. I promise to both you the readers and Kiley I will follow protocol more consistent with the rest of the team in the future. Check out his report on Castillo as well as Dave Cameron’s article for their more distinguished viewpoints. Kiley has a lot more contacts than I do in the scouting world, so treat this as only my take rather than a more informed opinion. Without further ado, let’s look at his tools before getting into the nitty gritty of his swing.
Home to First: 4.12 seconds
Home to First on Bunt: 3.67
60-Yard Dash: 6.39 listed (6.55 by my count via video)
The running game is Castillo’s most readily apparent weapon, and it plays on both defense and offense in a plus-plus fashion. On the 60-yard dash from his showcase, he makes a false step before going forward, leaving his exact time up for debate. Regardless, either time makes his speed a high quality tool. If beating out ground balls for hits is what you’re hoping for, he may leave you disappointed. His swing takes him toward the left side of the diamond most of the time, making him a bit slower out of the box due to having to change direction. When he bunts, there’s no doubt he’s a menace, and with good placement it’s a guaranteed hit at that speed.
There are a number of clips of his baserunning but not many of him stealing off the pitcher. His speed plays just like it should taking extra bases on hits, and the rest of his value there will depend on his ability to get good jumps on Major League pitchers. For what it’s worth, over his last 1097 plate appearances in Cuba (2011-2013), he stole 66 bases while getting caught 22 times, good for a 75% success rate and a steal once every 5.4 times on base (counting singles, doubles, walks and hit-by-pitches; 4.6 if you take out doubles).
His aggressiveness and speed lead me to believe he will steal 25-30 bases over a full season, with more of his value coming from taking extra bases and supplementing his defensive play. Though he is not young, he is not old enough yet where we should be worried about a swift drop-off in his value here. I give him a slight discount on his present grade while he figures out how to traverse MLB pitchers and catchers on the bases.
Grade (Present/Future): 65/70
2015 Value: ~0.5 WAR
Castillo carries a strong arm into the field, fueling hopes he could play a solid right field even if his legs started to fail. His upper body strength is an asset and a liability here, as his arm action can get a bit stiff with his shoulder muscles tending to really heave his arm through. This is the reason for me why he profiles solely as an outfielder.
In the half dozen or so game clips I saw of his throws, he seems to need a few extra pre-throw steps to be consistently accurate. From a standstill he does not incorporate the rest of his body much, relying on his shoulder strength to get the ball going. We won’t see any Yasiel Puig-like throws from the wall with Castillo.
I don’t have any gun readings, but even if he does have 60-grade arm strength, I think it may only play as a below to fringe average tool when truly tested. If he were a pitcher I would be worried about shoulder injuries in the future. For this reason I think he may lose a tick over the next few years in this department.
Here, Castillo has a strong reputation as a plus defensive outfielder with the range for center field, and there is nothing in his highlights that suggest otherwise. He makes long running plays look easy, not wasting any time to get to the ball’s landing spot. He has a very soft glove even on plays where he has to jump or extend for the catch. In his showcase work he receives the ball well on double play feeds and batted balls alike, and strictly with his hands he would not be a train wreck at second base in a pinch. He looks comfortable ranging to his left and right and seems to have solid field awareness, allowing him to use the far reaches of his speed to haul balls in. I still don’t feel comfortable projecting any relatively unknown player as one of the best defensive outfielders in the game, but his playable range alone gives him a chance to be that guy.
2015 Value (Total Defense): ~0.7 WAR
*Just my personal preference, but I don’t like to talk about these as separate tools. They are too interdependent when trying to determine the value of a player’s bat in my opinion. There are a few exceptions, but in general I believe you can’t hit for power if you can’t square up Major League pitches, while defenses won’t respect a hitter’s ability if he has no pop behind it. I will still list the grades separately, but the discussion for each has a lot of overlap.
Castillo’s reputation for playing with high energy is obvious in even a cursory look, and in the batter’s box is no exception. His aggressiveness may hint at a high chase rate on pitches out of the zone, but he shows a pretty solid knack for getting the bat to the ball in all areas around the plate. Castillo’s strikeout rate over 2011-2013 compares favorably to the three years Jose Abreu and Yoenis Cespedes had before they each defected, though his walk rate was well below both. For a less recent comp, back in 2005-2007 Alexei Ramirez walked about 50% more often in the Cuban National Series than Castillo.
So in Castillo we are likely looking at a low walk rate, low to medium strikeout rate type hitter from a discipline perspective. Getting on base at a decent clip will require his BABIP to stay at a high level, which bodes fairly well considering his bat speed and general athleticism. However, if you have gotten anything out of my previous work, I hope it’s an acceptance that bat speed is only a (sometimes useless) part of the equation. Let’s take a look at his swings to get a better idea on his projections. Here are two swings off the same pitcher, the first a fastball away that Castillo drives for a double, and the second a middle-in breaking ball he grounds through the left side of the infield:
A few things jump out right away. Castillo’s shoulders stay very level leading up to the ball and again right after contact, leaving his bat flat as it comes into the zone (i.e. parallel to the ground). This movement provides him with little natural lift in his swing. The shoulders look rather rigid, and the back shoulder in particular looks like it has to push the hands through the zone. His hands look as though they don’t get on plane with the pitch until right at contact, and as a result his barrel spends very little time in line with the flight of the ball. At or just before contact his hands are already moving back across his body toward his open shoulder, making his window for squaring the ball up very small.
On the positive side, despite the side-to-side movement of his hands, his legs stay right underneath his body the whole swing. The core of his body drives efficiently into the ball, and there is good turn of his hips while keeping his front foot down flush with the ground. If the hips were less efficient, we might see the plane of his belt change as one of his hips collapsed or had to work harder than the other, or see him fly open with his knee and/or foot as he follows through.
A level swing like his can be more susceptible to pitches lower in the zone, so let’s see a ball down that he gets up in the air:
His back shoulder again pushes the hands, which look like they are still going down when he makes contact before coming across his body level to the ground. His shoulders tilt a bit more, but not in a way that allows him to lift the ball with his swing path. Instead, he hits it up because his bat contacts the bottom half of the ball, resulting in a less efficient transfer of force and a small margin of error if he wants to consistently drive this pitch. Even on a difficult pitch here, his lower half stays supportive under his swing, so at least his hands and head are working from the same position despite the change in height of the pitch.
Next we get a look at his swing from the side view, this one on another low pitch.
Starting with the lower half, Castillo gets to a strong position with both heels on the ground. As his front heel gets down, the hips really lead the turn of his core, with his knee staying over the back foot until the hips start. His front side accepts the force of his stride and rotation without leaking forward or open to the third base dugout, and he drives his front heel into the ground as he makes contact. There is a lot to like in this part of his swing.
In the upper body, we get a better look at his hand path than we do from the pitcher’s view. The first move of his swing comes from the back elbow starting to drop under his shoulders, though it does not happen independently. The barrel of the bat starts to get away from Castillo here, adding some unwanted length very early in his bat path. As a result of this “laying off” of the bat, his hands don’t follow the elbow down behind the body, but instead start to push forward and down at the same time. Because of this move, his hands don’t get on plane until all the way at contact, descending all the way through the swing. This chop-down swing, while desirable in some eyes, is what makes his head continue forward through the swing, rather than staying on his legs and allowing the swing to work under his head. Then the follow through comes across the body and out of the line of the pitch immediately after contact.
His swing path is going to be the limiting factor in Castillo’s ultimate ceiling. Even if we believed he had the raw power and contact ability to be a .300/30 homer type of hitter, his swing does not allow him to adjust to slight timing changes and still put the ball in the air, like that type of hitter has to be able to do. He is still going to hit balls extremely hard for line drives:
But his swing path and resultant propensity for pushing the barrel out and across the ball will result in a lot of balls hit with topspin rather than hit flush or with backspin.
That is not to say Castillo will not hit for power at all. I would never want to miss up in the zone to him.
He’s going to demolish mistake pitches, and Fenway Park will be the friendliest place of all for his type of power.
Even though his hands want to chop on pitches lower in the zone, they can come through more level or on an incline when the ball is up with the same approach. In the side shot you can see how much longer the barrel is in the way of the ball, and his wrist roll doesn’t have to happen as early because of the pitch location. This is where he is going to make pitchers pay, so it’s really a question of how often he gets balls up in the zone, a la vintage 2011 Dustin Pedroia.
Castillo seems to have the strength to be able to muscle balls out lower in the zone, but his timing and hand-eye coordination will both have to be in the elite upper echelon to do it with any kind of consistency. Swinging down on a ball that is falling down and hitting it in the air is tough to do. His swing plane is still clearly of the low line drive type, though the speeds off the bat should be pretty impressive, likely leading to a high BABIP.
For some swing analogs, a few hitters came to mind that utilize similar bat paths in Major League Baseball, often swinging down and other times being more level, almost always swinging across the shoulders:
Shane Victorino’s name has come up in other analyses of a possible model for Castillo’s abilities, including Dave’s work from a few weeks ago. He’s a bit less shoulder heavy, though he has a very similar bat path from the right side. I like him the most of the three as a (rather loose) approximation of Castillo’s potential as a guy who may be a good to great outfielder some years and a 5-win monster year if everything clicks in the same time period.
Melky Cabrera has better hands than Castillo, giving him the leg up in the AVG department, but Castillo’s raw power gives him similar upside. Brian Dozier would be the best-case scenario given the skill set. Both of these hitters use the lower half well to drive the ball like Castillo. Both are also more relaxed with their shoulders as they swing, giving them an advantage in hand path, which for me is easier to bet on from consistency and ceiling outlooks. These two are likely better models for only Castillo’s best offensive year(s), since a more relaxed approach would be almost contradictory to his established performance baseline.
Castillo did put on quite a power display in his showcase swings last month, elevating balls with more ease than in his game footage.
I am a believer in his strength to hit balls out of the park at a plus level…during batting practice. For his part, Castillo does not hint at a conscious change in hitting approach in interviews, saying “My No. 1 objective would be to be the same player I’ve always been, to play my game and not try to do too much or try to become someone else.” Count me among those who think he is not going to be developing a power-centric game in the next few years, though I wish he would. I see many doubles in his future coming more from his speed than his thump.
Hit: 50/55; with high variance owing to BABIP reliance
Raw Power: 60
2015 Value: ~0.8 WAR
2015 Batting Line(!): .268/.308/.430
! = For the inevitable fantasy questions
Adding up my extremely accurate value projections, we get about a 2 WAR player with the potential for another win or two coming from his bat in a good year. To bet on the over offensively is to believe he is athletic enough to make hard contact at a near elite rate despite some swing deficiencies, which I cannot refute as a possibility. I would also not be surprised if there was another half win on the defensive side. Considering his contract calls for him to be paid market-price for this value, and there are some encouraging reasons to believe it is a modest estimate, the Sox appear to have done well making a solid upside play with a high floor.
Castillo’s stat compilation from ObstructedView.net
Run value chart from Baseball Heat Maps
Videos from Baseball America, MLB.com and YouTube; Castillo links below: