By: Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
Rusney Castillo, Outfielder, Boston Red Sox
2014 season (Majors): 10 G, 36 AB, .333 BA, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 3 SB, .928 OPS
Aside from elite prospects, it’s not often that a player with only 10 games of MLB experience comes into Spring Training with an almost guaranteed spot in the starting lineup. But there’s good reason Boston’s big signing from Cuba, Rusney Castillo, is the favorite for the starting center-field job.
Looking to capitalize on the recent influx of International talent, the Red Sox signed Castillo to a seven-year, $72.5 million deal in late August. After just a few weeks, Castillo went straight to the Majors and finished the year with the club, flashing an impressive combination of power and speed in a very short amount of time.
The Red Sox obviously wanted Castillo — who had not played baseball since 2012 before his brief stint with the club in September — to get some work in over the fall and winter, so he was sent to the Arizona Fall League. Unfortunately, a thumb injury cut his AFL season short after just eight games, though he did go 10-for-36 and score 10 runs for the Surprise Saguaros. The thumb injury was not too serious, and he picked up where he left off in the Puerto Rico Winter League, batting .405 in 10 games.
Boston had scouts eyeing Castillo for quite some time, and they obviously liked what they saw enough to convince the club to give him such a large commitment. While he has Minor League options left, GM Ben Cherington has already said he doesn’t think Castillo needs any more seasoning in the Minors, so he’s the clear frontrunner in center field. He’s no shoe-in, however, as the Red Sox also have prospects Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. in the mix as well. Betts hit .291 with 18 extra-base hits in 52 games for Boston last season, while Bradley Jr. struggled mightily at the plate but shined defensively. Given Castillo’s $10.5 million base salary this year and impressive tools, it’s likely up to Castillo to simply play well enough to make the club.
It’s tough to predict how he can perform given the fact that he has no Minor League stats and just 10 big league games under his belt, but that short stint, his Cuban National Series numbers (40 HRs, 66 SBs, .315 BA from 2010-2012) and his winter numbers clearly show the talent and potential he possesses. Steamer Projections have him hitting 13 home runs and stealing 15 bases with a .279/.322/.422 slash line — pretty strong rookie numbers, especially for a relative unknown. Given the incredible success of fellow Cuban imports like Jose Abreu and Yasiel Puig, among others, there’s no reason to believe Castillo’s tremendous skill can’t translate to MLB. Expect a strong rookie year as an important part of what looks to be a very impressive Red Sox lineup.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.