What Went Wrong? The Rusney Castillo Story

Michael Dwyer/Associated Press 

On August 23rd, 2014 the Red Sox signed Cuban free agent Rusney Castillo to a 7 year and $72.5 million contract. It was the largest contract ever given to a Cuban player at that time. The Sox were trying to capitalize on the handful of other Cuban sluggers who had been signed to big-league contracts and have made a major-league impact (Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig, and Jose Abreu). Even at the time however, the circumstances around the signing seemed a bit odd and risky.

When the signing happened, Castillo hadn’t played a game of professional baseball in Cuba since 2012. He attempted to escape from Cuba in 2012 and was then consequently suspended for the entire 2013 season. He was always touted as a speedy center-fielder with potential, but teams really only had a workout in Florida in July of 2014 to see his current ability. Other tape was from 2 years prior or earlier, which makes it difficult to scout a player. Maybe it is just me looking back in hindsight, but investing $72.5 million in a prospect who has not played organized baseball in years was an extreme risk.

At the time, the Red Sox didn’t have a steady outfield presence which makes the Castillo signing more logical. Jackie Bradley Jr. was a defensive monster, but terrible at the plate and Mookie Betts was learning the outfield after making the switch from the infield the year prior. It was unclear what their future would be in the outfield and unclear who would even be playing in 2015. The Sox figured Castillo could be a cornerstone guy for years to come.

As Betts and Bradley Jr. improved and became anchors in the outfield, Castillo was very much an afterthought. He played in 80 games in 2015, showing some promise in August when his average ballooned to around .300, but ultimately finished the season with a .253 average and 5 HRs. His defense left much to be desired as well, committing 5 errors in 2015. He did have 6 outfield assists, but coupled with his other numbers, he was unimpressive to say the least.

This season, Castillo started in Pawtucket with the hopes he could get his swing back and perhaps spend time manning left field at Fenway. Unfortunately for Castillo and the Red Sox, in 161 plate appearances he hit .245 with 1 HR and just 13 RBIs to go along with 23 Ks. He was called up to the big-leagues for one game in April and again in June for depth, but hadn’t seen much playing time (not that it is deserved).

On Sunday, the Red Sox placed Castillo on outright waivers, which was a final admission that the signing was a mistake. Castillo could end up back with the Red Sox organization, especially considering no one will pick him off of waivers with that contract, but the dream of him being an impact player at the major-league level is in the rearview mirror. Now, at best, he is a minor-league depth piece and perhaps a throw-in/salary dump in a future trade.

Looking into the Red Sox Future

Over the past 5 years, the Red Sox have had some great success drafting and developing young talent. Tonight is the 2016 MLB Amateur Draft and rather than attempt to analyze who the Red Sox might pick, let’s take a look at who they have picked over the past 5 years and see where they are now. Since there are 40 rounds, the focus will be narrowed to top part of the draft and any notable lower picks. For those who are already bored, at least take a look at the 2011 draft, it’s something special!

2011
Round 1
RHP Matt Barnes (UConn)
C Blake Swihart

Compensation Round A
LHP Henry Owens
OF Jackie Bradley Jr.

Rounds 2, 3, and 5 (in order)
OF Williams Jerez
C Jordan Weems
RHP Noe Ramirez
SS Mookie Betts

Round 9
3B Travis Shaw

Arguably the best draft of all time, by any team. Of the top 8 players selected, 6 have seen time with the Boston Red Sox this season (2 are back in AAA Pawtucket) and the other 2 are progressing with the AA Portland Sea Dogs. To prove the point even further, 5 of the top 12 picks are either everyday offensive players or frequent bullpen arms for the Red Sox in 2016, not including the 2 other pitchers in that group who have contributed at the big league level this year.

For those who are unfamiliar with how rare this draft truly was, take a look at the other drafts after this one for the Red Sox. There are usually 1-3 players who make the big leagues or who are waiting in the wings at AAA in a really good draft. This draft, thus far for the Red Sox, has produced 7 legitimate big league players, including a few picks that are on their way to becoming superstars.

2012
Round 1
SS Deven Marrero
LHP Brian Johnson

Compensation Round A
RHP Pat Light

Rounds 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 (in order)
RHP Jamie Callahan
RHP Austin Maddox
RHP Ty Buttrey
RHP Mike Augliera
RHP Justin Haley

Another nice draft for the Red Sox. The top 3 players selected have all seen time in the big leagues, Deven Marrero and Brian Johnson in 2015 and Pat Light for one appearance in 2016. All 3 have the potential to be solid major league talents, whether the opportunity is in Boston or another city through trade. Depending on health and the Red Sox pitching situation, I can see Johnson and Light getting another shot in the big leagues in 2016. With Brock Holt out with concussion symptoms, I see Marrero being the next guy in line for an infield spot if another injury were to occur.

Of the next 5 players selected for the Red Sox, 4 are with the AA Portland Sea Dogs and only RHP Jamie Callahan (2nd round) is in advanced A Salem.

2013
Round 1
LHP Trey Ball

Rounds 2, 3, and 4 (in order)
RHP Teddy Stankiewicz
C John Denney
RHP Myles Smith

This draft is where it gets difficult for a non-minor league baseball scout to analyze. Most of the guys taken in this draft are still in A or advanced-A ball and stats at that level are hard to interpret. The 1 player from this draft who has climbed the organizational ladder quite quickly is RHP Teddy Stankiewicz, who is currently pitching for the AA Portland Sea Dogs (although his numbers would indicate a bit of a struggle at the AA level). LHP Trey Ball, the first round pick, is a name that is mentioned often in Red Sox circles, and despite some shaky numbers in the low minors, he has improved year over year. Just don’t expect to see any of these guys in the majors for a few years.

2014
Round 1
SS Michael Chavis
RHP Michael Kopech

Rounds 2, 3, and 4 (in order)
1B Sam Travis
RHP Jake Cosart
RHP Kevin McAvoy

Most of the top of this draft class is still with the A Greenville Drive. The one major exception is 1B Sam Travis who has shot up the Red Sox system since being drafted. He began the year in AAA Pawtucket, with many thinking an MLB call-up this year was not out of the question assuming an injury or two. Then disaster struck when Travis tore his ACL, which ended his season before it really got interesting. His meteoric rise was great to follow, but this set-back really hurts (no pun intended). Once the ACL heals and Travis is able to get back on the field in 2017, hopefully he can resume his great climb to the majors. If he can pick up where he left off, he’ll be in the majors before too long.

2015
Round 1
OF Andrew Benintendi

Rounds 3, 4, and 5 (in order)
C Austin Rei
CF Tate Matheny
CF Jagger Rusconi

It is way too early to properly assess this draft class as a whole, but 1 name that will be familiar to some is first round pick OF Andrew Benintendi. He was drafted out of Arkansas and has moved up to AA Portland this season. He is struggling a bit early on, but that’s to be expected from a 21-year old kid. The Red Sox have high hopes that Benintendi will be a great outfield talent in the future.

Is Betts’ Power Surge Sustainable?

AP Photo/Steven Senne

A lot has been made lately of the huge power production from the 5’9” 180 pound right fielder for the Red Sox: Mookie Betts. As of Monday morning he had 14 HRs and 45 RBIs out of the leadoff spot, 5 HRs coming in just 7 at-bats over 2 games against the Baltimore Orioles this week. If you watch Betts play, even for a short period of time, you know he has the potential to have an amazing MLB career. He’s an excellent defensive outfielder, has speed to spare on the basepaths, and has some of the fastest hands in the batter’s box, but is he really a power hitter?

Betts made his MLB debut in 2014, playing in 52 games and finishing with a .291 average and 5 HRs. If averaged out to a full 162-game season, he would have finished with 16 HRs, a very respectable number for a leadoff hitter. Then in 2015, he played in 145 games and finished with an identical .291 average and 18 HRs, which is again a great stat line and a lot of production from the leadoff spot. He we are in 2016 and Betts has played in 57 games and has a .285 average and 14 HRs, just 4 shy of his career high and it’s only June 6th. When averaging out his numbers over 162 games, Betts is on pace for 40 HRs this year. Yes, you read that right, 40.

Now I know he will not play in all 162 games and 40 is a high projection, even if the power surge continues, but is Mookie an annual 30/35 HR hitter? Not likely and here’s why…

During 5 seasons in the minor leagues, Betts hit a total of 27 HRs in 1,315 at-bats, which is a HR every 49 at-bats. In the majors prior to this season, Betts had a HR once every 34 at-bats, which is better than his minor league numbers, but almost half as frequent as his 2016 number of one HR every 18 at-bats. I’m sure Betts is a smarter and stronger player than he was in the minors and probably even stronger than last year, but to see such a significant power jump is staggering.

I have to believe Mookie’s power numbers will come back to earth and be closer to one HR every 30 or 35 at-bats, giving him an average of about 20-25 HRs per year. That would be a better pace than his entire minor league career and his first two years in the MLB and make him one of the best and most powerful leadoff hitters in baseball (notwithstanding the Blue Jays recent experiment with Jose Bautista in the leadoff spot). If Betts can maintain his .285/.290 average with 20-25 HRs on a yearly basis, he has the very real potential to be one of greatest players to don a Red Sox uniform.

Before you chastise me for calling him one of the best, he is a LONG way from greatness. He is 23 years old and has just 254 MLB games of experience, a tiny sample size. His small-ish frame and aggressive style of play are incredibly fun to watch, but make me nervous about future injuries and body-breakdown (i.e. Dustin Pedroia).

Regardless of what the future holds, Mookie Betts is helping to make the Red Sox must-watch television. I want to tune in and see the crazy catch he is going to make in right field or the ridiculous HR he will hit after turning on a fastball at his wrists. He is an electric player who puts butts in the seats at Fenway. Whether Mookie hits 40 HRs or 10 HRs, his imprint will likely be all over this team for years to come.

High-Flying Splitsville

After the first two games of the Red Sox 4-game set with the Orioles, it looked as if the two teams were going in opposite directions. The Baltimore Orioles had lost 7 of their last 10 games and had fallen to 3 games back of the 1st place Red Sox, who had won 7 of their last 10. They had mustered all of 5 extra base hits in the first 2 games of the series while their pitching staff had allowed 5 HRs to Mookie Betts alone. Then the tides turned dramatically.

In games 3 and 4 the Red Sox pitching staff allowed 25 runs on 25 hits including 7 HRs (all in game 4). Despite scoring 16 runs of their own, which should be enough to win even most nights even with a mediocre pitching staff, the Red Sox dropped the last 2 of the series and now find themselves just 1 game up in the AL East. The Red Sox are 5-5 in their last 10 games, 7 of the 10 coming against divisional foes. Their schedule doesn’t get any easier as they have another 3-game set against the Blue Jays, followed by a quick west coast swing to play the NL West leading San Francisco Giants for two games.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the 8 pitchers used by John Farrell all allowed at least 1 earned run, 6 of the 8 allowing at least 2 earned runs. The once surprisingly strong bullpen is coming back down to earth and the holes in the starting rotation are being exploited, especially against a good lineup like the Orioles. The common refrain that we all heard in Spring Training is getting louder: their pitching staff isn’t good enough to contend.

Although the final two games of the series were tough to watch at times (unless you love offense and don’t care about result), the Red Sox end the series with their division rivals exactly where they began: 1 game up in 1st place in the AL East. It could be worse.