The "next big thing" from Cuba will soon make a decision on which team he'll sign with. We present you this primer on Rusney Castillo.
Rusney Castillo has become the latest Cuban defector to enter baseball's big bright green hype machine, though not without good reason. Like Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu before, the 27-year-old has scouts and fans alike salivating with that most teasing word in sports: potential. He's muscular. He's fast. There are a few questions about his defense and at which position he fits best, but even with those questions unanswered, Castillo may be ready to step into a key role today.
Can Castillo pay off that prediction at the major league level? That, of course, is the flip-side of potential. There's no guarantee that it becomes actual. And unlike first-round draft picks from the amateur draft or young international free agents, there's nothing stopping a club from giving him a lot of money. Guilty until proven innocent, for now he's merely a very expensive gamble, albeit one with the scouting reports on his side.
Castillo reportedly could net a $50 million contract. He is expected to make a decision soon as to where he'll sign. If he signs with a team in contention and joins its roster before the end of the month, he'll be eligible for the 2014 playoffs.
With all that in mind, here's a primer on what we know ... or don't.
How good is he?
If we only knew. But we can say what scouts like and don't like. In 360 games in Cuba, Castillo hit .319 with a .383 on-base percentage, .516 slugging average, 51 home runs and 76 stolen bases. He played center field and right field his final three seasons there.
The right-handed-hitting Castillo is a short, stocky player at 5'9, 205 pounds with a large amount of muscle, 20 pounds of it added since he came to the States. Ben Badler of Baseball America notes:
Castillo always had good bat speed and could sting the ball with a line-drive approach in Cuba, but on Saturday he hit balls out to all fields, displaying plus raw power in BP. Several scouts felt Castillo took a home run derby mentality with him into his BP session instead of his standard game swing, but it worked to show some scouts they needed to adjust their grades on him.
His swing has been described as being a bit too long for the majors, Castillo having had more margin for error against slower-throwing pitchers in Cuba, Badler writes. However, there seems to be no question that he'll do just fine with the bat.
As for speed, BA's Walter Villa noted scouts ranged in scores from 60 to 80 on the 20-80 scale. The top grade may be a bit of hyperbole, per Villa, but the speed is not an issue.
Castillo is not quite as good in the field and despite some experience at second base, he should be considered purely as an outfielder. Villa reports one scout called his arm his worst tool, giving it a 50 score. Opinions vary about where in the outfield he fits, with scouts voicing to BA he's anything from an everyday center fielder to a fourth outfielder.
All of this led Badler to use a younger Rajai Davis as a starting comparison. Castillo has the potential to hit for more power while still bringing speed and capable outfield defense to a team. Just how much power Castillo brings will be a factor in how successful he can be.
Can Castillo contribute immediately at the major league level?
Well, part of that answer is that we really don't know. He has not played in a game since prior to leaving Cuba, having ended 2012 on suspension. Workouts can only go so far, and that's a long layoff to overcome. However, some scouts believe he can.The other part of the answer is that he'll need to get a work visa first. Joel Sherman of the NY Post notes he is currently on a visitor visa. That will need to be resolved out before he can play. Teams that may wish to have use of him in the playoffs have a deadline of the end of August to get him on their roster, adding another line of intrigue.
How much money is Castillo going to cost?
It might take a $50 million, six-year deal. Jon Paul Morosi reported that in a video for Fox Sports on Saturday. Earlier reports had put him in the mid-to-upper $40 million range.
How does that compare to other Cubans defectors?
Yoenis Cespedes signed a four-year, $36 million deal with the A's before the 2012 season, with his salary beginning at $6.5 million and escalating to $10.5 million in 2014 and 2015. Yasiel Puig signed a seven-year, $42 million contract with the Dodgers later that year. His was a bit more complicated, paying a $12 million signing bonus and allowing him to opt for arbitration after three years of service time. He is earning $2 million this year. Jose Abreu signed a six-year, $68 million deal with the White Sox last October. That included a $10 million signing bonus. He, too, can opt for arbitration after three years of service time. He is earning $7 million this year. All three players earned All-Star nods in 2014. Cespedes is the defending two-time Home Run Derby champion. Lower on the scale, Jorge Soler signed with the Cubs for nine years, $30 million, in 2012. Daniel Carbonell, earned just a four-year, $1.4 million contract with the Giants.
Looking at infielders, the Dodgers signed second baseman Alexander Guerrero to a four-year, $28 million deal last October and shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena to a five-year, $25 million deal in February. They received $10 million and $7.5 million signing bonuses, respectively. In 2009, a then 19-year-old Jose Iglesias signed for four years, $8.25 million with the Red Sox.
In short, teams are willing to pay for power bats. Castillo appears to be one.
Where might Castillo sign?
Almost anywhere. Twenty-eight teams sent scouts to Castillo's workout in Miami on July 26, reports Villa. In all, more than 100 people watched the nearly three-hour workout. Not all of those teams will be interested; not all will make a realistic offer, but you have to show up and take a look.
According to Badler, the Red Sox were the team with the largest presence at Castillo's workout. NESN reported the Red Sox were expected to "aggressively" bid for his services. The Yankees and Phillies are also reported to have held private workouts with Castillo, but Jim Salisbury of CSN Philadelphia believes them to be a long shot to sign him. The Tigers were also listed as "major players" by Joel Sherman of the New York Post. That would make some sense for Detroit, which traded center fielder Austin Jackson at the trade deadline.
When is he going to sign?
Could be any day now. Castillo was reportedly sorting through offers over the weekend. Thanks to the need for a work visa, a decision could come sooner than later, especially if he hopes to contribute in the playoffs.
So, is Castillo worth the hype?
It certainly sounds like it. But ultimately, until he's on the field facing major league teams, we just can't say for sure.
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