The Red Sox have had more than their fair share of struggles in the outfield this season. The Grady Sizemore experiment failed, Daniel Nava and Shane Victorino came back to earth after excellent 2013 seasons, and Jackie Bradley Jr. has had a downright bad year at the plate in his full-season debut. Boston did make an effort to improve their outfield’s production at the trade deadline, acquiring Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig. Even after acquiring those two corner bats, however, the Red Sox have been heavily involved in the sweepstakes for Cuban center fielder Rusney Castillo. With an already crowded outfield, though, one must wonder whether pursuing Castillo is the right move for the Red Sox.
Castillo is currently a center fielder and, due to his speed and defensive prowess, it’s likely that he will stick in center field. He projects as a top-of-the-order hitter due to his speed, which grades as a 70 on most scouts’ 20-80 scale. Plus, despite being only 5’8″, has shown decent pop at the plate and displays the ability to hit for both average and respectable power. In five seasons in Cuba, he hit .319 with 51 home runs and, while Cuban statistics should be taken with a grain of salt, that success is encouraging for Castillo’s future at the plate.
However, while center field has been a position of weakness for the Red Sox this season, acquiring Castillo would displace not only promising rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. but also top prospect Mookie Betts. If the Red Sox do choose to pursue Castillo, then they must ask whether Castillo’s potential is worth the opportunity cost of moving one or both of Betts and Bradley.
After all, Betts is considered one of the top prospects in all of baseball, listed at #12 in MLB.com’s midseason rankings, and while Bradley has experienced some growing pains in 2014, he has shown flashes of being a solid Major League player. If the hype that Castillo has generated proves legitimate, then he certainly has the potential to be better than Bradley– whose ceiling is that of a solid-average Major League hitter, but probably no more. However, whether or not he can surpass Betts is a better question and one that could very well determine whether the Red Sox are major players for Castillo.
After all, while Castillo would give the Red Sox instant offense next year, and that’s an attractive option for a team looking to re-enter the race for the playoffs, it’s hard to argue that his longterm potential is exceeds that of Betts, who has torn apart the upper minors this season to the tune of a .348/.436/.537 slash line between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket. There is the possibility that Betts, a natural second baseman, could move to another position of need in Boston’s lineup such as third base; however, moving him from center field would take away a plus tool in Betts’s excellent speed, which would play well in Fenway Park’s spacious outfield.
If the contract Castillo eventually receives falls close to that of Puig, cost won’t be an issue for the Red Sox, who have no contracts committed beyond 2015. However, while Castillo is a promising player, there doesn’t appear to be a real fit for him with the Red Sox. Though he has struggled mightily at the plate this season, Bradley has been among the best defensive outfielders in baseball and, with more experience, still could develop into a decent hitter. And Betts has an incredibly bright future with the Red Sox, a future that would be clouded with the addition of Castillo. All things considered, and if the Red Sox are committed to the team’s future, they should shy away from Castillo this offseason.