The next installment of BoSox Injection’s “25 in 25” takes us to the one of the more interesting players and stories in all of Major League Baseball – the Cuban national player Rusney Castillo. If the Red Sox are able to turn things around once again in 2015, it could be in large part to the addition of Castillo.
There is a ton of mystery and intrigue surrounding the 27 year old Cuban born Rusney Castillo. He played for the Ciego de Ávila team from 2008-2013 where he was used at second base, third base and all three outfield positions. The 2010 season saw Castillo come into his own batting .320 with 22 homeruns and 95 RBI. He also added 32 stolen bases. He kept up that pace in 2011, however his numbers fell off a bit in 2012 as Rusney eyed a career in Major League Baseball.
Rusney became a focal point for the Cuban national team in 2011 when he became their permanent center fielder due to the defection of various Cuban players, including former Sox outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. He played for Cuba in multiple tournaments, but was suspended in 2013 prior to the World Baseball Classic for attempting to defect to the United States. This forced Castillo to wait in Cuba until a resolution could be resolved. After moving to the Haiti, Rusney was given free agent status by MLB in June of last year. After negotiations with a few clubs, Boston signed him to a seven year deal worth 72.5 million dollars in August.
With the Red Sox plummeting to last place, they had the flexibility to see what Rusney could bring to the field and gave him some playing time almost immediately. In 40 plate appearances, he batted .333 with 12 total hits, 6 runs, 6 RBI, 2 homeruns, and 3 stolen bases. He walked 3 times and struck out 6 times. It was a very small sample, but it was enough to whet Red Sox Nation’s appetite heading into 2015.
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Despite this being his first full season in the MLB, expectations are running fairly high for Rusney Castillo given his age, athleticism, and rather large contract. It is actually the highest amount ever paid to an amateur free agent according to Baseball-Reference.com. The Red Sox will look to make Castillo their starting center fielder by all accounts.
Looking at his body of work, the most exciting aspect of his game would be his knack for solid power numbers combined with his speed. Most reports detail Castillo’s well-roundedness and his ability to do a little bit of everything, combined with the skills to hit the ball to all areas of the field and not rely only on pulling the ball. Comparisons to fellow Cuban and current Dodger Yasiel Puig may not be far off, although no reports have surface in regards to his personality being as “dynamic” as Puig’s.
Castillo played winter ball in Puerto Rico under the tutelage of former Sox utility man Alex Cora. Cora has had glowing reviews of the young Cuban. He recently told WEEI’s Rob Bradford:
“He’s ready to play in the big leagues. Mentally, we were very impressed with his approach. He didn’t try and pull too much. Most of his hits were back up the middle, right-center. Defensively was the part that caught our eye. He did a really good job in center field. He has a feel of where to play guys after that first at-bat. We liked what we saw. The report we got that was he was raw baseball-wise. But he’s not. The way he talks the game in the dugout. The way he gets details. That really caught my eye.”
After reading these reviews and player profiles, it’s not hard to see why the Red Sox jumped all over the opportunity to sign Castillo and plan on inserting him into their lineup from the start. His versatility, baseball IQ and big play-making ability could make him a focal point of the 2015 Red Sox squad, and I foresee plenty of Rusney jerseys being worn throughout Fenway Park for the next seven seasons.