Rusney Castillo: Cuban Missile Crisis

On Friday, the Boston Red Sox signed Cuban defector Rusney Castillo (Rusney Castillo Peraza) to a 7 year 72.5 million dollar contract.  This deal tops the 6 year 68 million dollar deal signed by Jose Abreu last year by the Chicago White Sox.  Prior to signing, the 27-year-old Castillo was a member of the Los Tigres, the nickname for Ciego de Avila’s club in the Cuban National Series.  He also played with the Cuban National baseball team in several international tournaments, including the 2011 Baseball World Cup and the 2011 Pan American Games.  He was the leader in the World Cup for batting average and slugging while ranking 4th in on base percentage with a .512/.524/.854 slash line in 10 games, going 21 for 41 with 2 homers, 2 triples and 4 doubles.

Castillo defected from Cuba in December 2013 and since then, has acquired permanent residency in Haiti.  He has been keeping in shape and training in the Dominican Republic.  Prior to leaving, the baseball commissioner for Ciego de Avila announced Castillo was suspended from the national team for violating the code of ethics of revolutionary baseball (Translation, attempting to defect).

So now that Castillo is officially part of major league baseball, what should we expect from him?  Lets start with what he has done in Cuba.  Here is a look at Castillo’s numbers from his former team, the Los Tigres.

AB H R 2B HR RBI SB BB K
2009 43 15 12 3 0 8 0 4 10
2010 99 30 11 2 2 10 2 2 19
2011 441 141 91 27 22 95 32 21 53
2012 448 153 101 37 21 84 27 41 49
2013 234 64 41 6 6 29 15 31 29
Total 1265 403 256 75 51 226 76 99 160

For additional stats, go to cuban-play.com or click here.

Avg OBP SLG ISO
2009 .349 .417 .465 .116
2010 .303 .333 .404 .101
2011 .320 .369 .553 .233
2012 .342 .408 .574 .232
2013 .274 .377 .393 .119
Total .319 .383 .516 .197

Castillo’s stats are somewhat irrelevant given the competition level and weak pitching he faced.  It does give us a glimpse, though, of the player he could potentially be just like NCAA stats do for college players.  They offer us a window to glance through and while they don’t tell the whole story, it’s an appetizing preface.

Scouting reports project Castillo as a line drive hitter, garnering more doubles and triples than home runs.  He’s classified as an aggressive hitter with a short compact swing and better than average bat speed.  His swing can get long at times which will help him expand the strike zone, though some believe it could make him vulnerable to chasing pitches outside the zone.  Those scouting reports were all made before his audition at the University of Miami.  Baseball America’s Ben Badler wrote an article earlier this month on how the perception of those scouts has changed since last seeing Castillo in 2013.  Badler stated that after watching Castillo during workouts, scouts updated their reports noting that Castillo had gained 20 pounds of muscle and was hitting with more power.  All of a sudden, those 15 to 20 home runs some saw as his ceiling have now become his floor.

Castillo was considered one of the best base stealers in Cuba.  He led the league in steals in 2011 and ranked third in the league the following year.  He does need to hone his base stealing skills.  While I did not include the stat above, Castillo was caught 29 times in 105 attempts.  His success rate is still relatively high, but it could spell trouble at the major league level with pitchers getting the ball home faster than his counterparts in Cuba along with superior pick-off skills.

As for the rest of Castillo’s numbers, that will come down to his batting average.  He holds a .319 average in Cuba, and while that doesn’t mean much, he did hold his own in international events with steeper competition.  If he can maintain the low strikeouts, garner a similar walk rate and make consistent contact, Castillo should hit in the top half of the order.  Closer to the top affords him more chances to score runs (and steals) while a spot near the middle means RBI opportunities.  Boston is in a rebuilding/transition mode; unlike past years, he could hit virtually anywhere with very few spots set in stone.

And Castillo will get a chance to play.  With Shane Victorino out for the season and Jackie Bradley back in the minors, centerfield is wide open.  Brock Holt will more than likely displace Will Middlebrooks at third on most nights.  With Mike Napoli hobbling and Allen Craig fresh off the DL, Holt could also play one of the corners or first allowing Mookie Betts a chance to play as well.  Yoenis Cespedes, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz are the only 3 players who will receive regular playing time.  Everyone else can and will have their playing time disrupted as Boston attempts to assess what they have.  Given the size of Castillo’s contract, you can virtually guarantee that he will be in the lineup more often than not.  Castillo did play second and third base his first two years in Cuba along with both corner outfield positions.  While it is unlikely we will see him play the infield other than an emergency situation, right field is an option should Craig or Napoli go down again.

What should we expect from Castillo for this season and should fantasy owners pick him up?  Let’s start with the second question first, and that would be a yes for me.  The pick up has some minor reservations, but the reward could easily outweigh the risk.  Looking out on waivers in several of my leagues, I see Leonys Martin, Jon Jay, Dayan Viciedo, Garrett Jones and a cast of other players who are below replacement level.  Castillo, just like prospects when they are called up, has a higher ceiling and that potential can’t be ignored.  I then looked at some of the options teams in my league were using as a fourth outfield.  Shin-Soo Choo, Ender Inciarte, Michael Bourn, Josh Willingham, Dexter Fowler, nothing about any of these gentlemen will strike fear into your opponent.  If you were to drop one of them for Castillo, the upside in your favor is great.  The downside is he flounders for the month of September and you pick up one of those available players who were doing just as much (or should I say little) than the guy you previously rostered.

If you are in a keeper league, you should be all over this one.  Castillo runs the same risk of any prospect, but given his age, you should know sooner rather than later if you have a worthy investment or someone to throw back to waivers.  You won’t have to deal with years of growing pains as you should know within his first year if you have a winner.  At minimum, he’s a 15/20 players, but the potential is there to be much more.  Dave Cameron from Fangraphs compares Castillo’s skills to those of Shane Victorino and Rajai Davis and projects a WAR in the ballpark of +3.

“If he’s somewhere between Davis and Victorino (career ISO of .154, wRC+ of 106), and he can actually play center field, then he should project as something close to a +3 WAR player, depending on how good of a defender he is and whether he can add any value on the bases. The six years will likely cover his age-28 through age-33 seasons, so even with some drop-off in value at the end of the deal, projecting something like +15 WAR from Castillo over the next six years doesn’t seem unreasonable. That would put this price at around $5 million per win, and there’s no draft pick tax for signing Castillo like there would be for a similar Major League free agent”

I can see the Victorino comparison and think that one could be close, but I would expect a better, more consistent average.  Castillo won’t be an elite first round guy, but he could easily be a solid 4th round pick for years to come (potentially higher, I’m being conservative).

Back to our first question, what should we expect from him for the remainder of the season?  If this were 5 years ago I would be hesitant in predicting anything more than what you would get from some of those fourth outfielders I mentioned above.  Considering the impact players like Cespedes, Puig and Abreu have had, I’m feeling confident.  Abreu and Cespedes struggled with their batting average during their first month; as much as I dream of a Puig-like debut, I’m going to err on the cautious side.  Expect an average in the .260 range with 12 to 15 runs and RBIs (numbers to go either way depending on his place in the lineup).  As for the home runs and stolen bases, I expect 6-7 combined.  Nothing earth shattering, but more than replacement level and better than your worse bench player.  I recommend him for leagues with 12 or more teams.  In 10 team leagues he deserves consideration, use your own discretion based upon your team needs.

The only thing left is to wait for your fantasy provider to add him to their database and your corresponding player pool.  If you play in a league on Fantrax you are in luck.  He is already in there and on one of my teams; if you play there, hurry up before someone notices.  Edit 6:00 PM – CBS has added Castillo to the player pool, act now.

With Castillo now in the majors, fantasy owners will turn their attention and await the next big thing to arrive.  All eyes are on Yasmani Tomas, and if you don’t know who that is, jot that name down somewhere for future reference.

Jim Finch

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The self proclaimed Grand High Exhausted Mystic Ruler of Fantasy Baseball. While I am not related to Jennie or Sidd Finch, I will attempt to uphold the integrity of the Finch family name as it relates to baseball.