Red Sox OF Rusney Castillo talks about adjustments


Boston Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo discusses some of the adjustments he has made since his arrival in the big leagues that have helped prepare him for the upcoming season.

Rusney Castillo faces a pivotal point in his career as he prepares to make his first full season in the majors, aiming to prove that he was worth the investment that the Boston Red Sox made to pry him out of Cuba.

The 28-year old outfielder should be in his prime, yet he’s used the better part of the last year and a half since his arrival playing catch up as he learns to adjust to his new environment. We have to remember that Castillo spent two years away from baseball while completing the process of defecting from his native country, so some patience was going to be required.

Castillo has played 90 career games for the Red Sox since his debut at the tail end of the 2014 season, posting an underwhelming line of .262/.302/.379 thus far. That’s a far cry from the production that was expected from a player signed to a lucrative contract that still owes him $56.5 million over the next five years. While Castillo hasn’t lived up to expectations yet, the lessons he has learned from his brief time in the majors have helped him make the adjustments he feels will lead to a breakout year.

Entering the season armed with the knowledge that he has been ensured a roster spot has aided his comfort level heading into spring training, as he can focus on improving his game instead of worrying about if he will break camp with the team. His experience as a rookie also has helped him learn what it takes to navigate the grueling schedule of a major league season. Castillo admitted to feeling worn down by the end of last season, but he feels that he is more prepared for this season.

"“I know what it takes to take a toll of the games. I’m preparing hard and what it will take physically, so I’m prepared from now on and I’m ready to face that challenge,” Castillo told reporters at the Red Sox Winter Weekend on Saturday, per WEEI’s Rob Bradford. “In Cuba we didn’t play as much, obviously, but now I know how many games are played I will keep on preparing.”"

He went on to discuss how various injuries held him back last season, but he’s been working on different training styles to help keep him healthier moving forward.

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Castillo discussed the mental adjustments that the Red Sox coaching staff have helped him with as he acclimates to the differences between playing in Cuba compared to here. He also revealed that they have helped him with his approach to the plate by shortening his swing to adjust to the increased velocity from pitchers he’ll face in the big leagues.

The 18.7 K% that Castillo posted last season would have put him just outside the top-25 highest strikeout rates in the league if he had enough plate appearances to qualify. A high strikeout rate doesn’t necessarily doom a hitter, as Castillo was actually tied with 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson in that category, while superstar Mike Trout had the 10th highest strikeout rate at 23.2 percent. Players of their caliber make up for it with vastly better walk rates though, while Castillo’s 5.5 BB% put him near the bottom of the league. The hope is that shortening his swing will eliminate some holes that should decrease his strikeout rate, while also getting him to lay off more pitches outside of the zone, leading to an uptick in his walk rate.

Another change Castillo will need to deal with this year is shifting to left field, where he’ll need to learn how to play in the shadow of the towering wall at Fenway Park. The natural center fielder has spent time at all three outfield spots in Boston, but has played only 24 games in left.

"“I worked hard out there to get adjusted to the wall,” said Castillo. “I feel confident I can manage the wall wherever the ball takes me. I’m working hard every single day to really get accustomed to all the bounces they will take.”"

Getting used to playing the ball off the Green Monster is no easy task, but Castillo should be up for the challenge after posting a 19.2 UZR/150 that would have ranked third among AL outfielders if he had played enough innings to qualify last year. He certainly can’t do any worse than Hanley Ramirez‘s failed attempt to take over left field a year ago.

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Castillo still has a lot to prove in order to live up to his lofty expectations, but it’s all lining up for him to come through with a career year in 2016.