Rusney Castillo is the latest player to escape Cuba to come play for a Major League Baseball team. We just don't know which team the hyped prospect will sign with yet. The 27-year old is expected to make a decision soon, with a few teams reportedly setting themselves apart as favorites to land him – including the Boston Red Sox.
Should the Red Sox be interested?
Castillo certainly has the type of tools that scouts drool over. He's capable of hitting the ball to all fields and scouts raved about the raw power he displayed in batting practice. According to a report from Baseball America, he showed up to a recent showcase with an added 20 pounds of muscle packed into his frame, which helped him show more power than scouts expected. He also has good speed that most scouts have rated as at least a 60 on the 20-80 scale. In 360 games in Cuba, Castillo hit .319/.383/.516 with 51 home runs and 76 stolen bases. So you can certainly see why he's grabbed the attention of several large market teams.
That being said, Castillo is not without his flaws. He's not known as a great defensive player and there are questions about what position he'll play. While some teams think he's capable of playing second base, he'll likely stay in the outfield. Scouts are concerned that he doesn't have a great throwing arm, but at least the Red Sox would be able to hide that by sticking him in front of the Green Monster in left field at Fenway. He also showed a long swing, which worked great for displaying his power in batting practice, but could cause him to struggle in the majors against pitchers with better velocity than what he's used to seeing in Cuba.
Scouts differ in their opinion of him, with expectations ranging anywhere from an everyday center fielder to a fourth outfielder. Raji Davis has been used as a common comparison, but the bulk Castillo recently added suggests he'll hit for more power. At his peak, Davis was a 3.0 WAR player. If Castillo has a similar skill set but with more power then we can reasonably expect him to at least be at that level. It may be a step below the All-Star level many are expecting, but it's still a solid everyday player with upside to be even greater.
How much will he cost?
Estimates vary, but using other hyped hitters coming from Cuba in recent years as a comparison we can get a pretty good idea of what to expect. Yoenis Cespedes signed a 4-year, $36 million deal with the Oakland A's in 2012. He was traded to Boston last month, so perhaps having a fellow Cuban around who has gone through a similar experience to get here will benefit Castillo as he adjusts to life in the majors. Cespedes recently joined Evan Longoria as the only player in the past decade to hit 20 or more home runs in each of his first three seasons. Yasiel Puig signed a 7-year, $42 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers and currently finds himself in the mix for the NL MVP in only his second season. Jose Abreu signed a 6-year, $68 million deal with the Chicago White Sox and is the favorite to win the AL Rookie of the Year. He's swatted 31 home runs already this season – third most in the majors.
All three of those players were All-Stars this year. Castillo comes with a similar amount of hype, so expectations will be sky high. At 27, he's already older than any of those guys were when they signed their contracts though, so he'll probably only get a 5 year deal. He also doesn't project to have quite as much power as that trio does and we know that nothing jacks up the price like the long ball. A 5-year, $40 million deal would seem reasonable, but hype and the inevitable comparison to the aforementioned trio could push the bidding closer to $50 million.
Where does he fit?
The Red Sox already have a loaded outfield. Heading into next season they already need to find room for Cespedes, Allen Craig, Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava, Jackie Bradley, Jr., Mookie Betts and Brock Holt. Perhaps one of them can start the season in Pawtucket and Holt's versatility helps find ways to keep him in the lineup. It's still a crowded outfield and the addition of Castillo only clouds the picture even further.
On the other hand, we can't necessarily expect all of these players to remain on the roster by the start of next season. Boston could look to package some of it's depth to add more impact players. They have holes to fill in the rotation and not all of those spots can go to young pitchers. Any of the team's young, inexpensive outfielders could be packaged in a deal for a frontline starter or a power hitter.
So… do we want him?
That partly depends on the price. If we are in the right ballpark with our $40 million estimation then he could prove to be a decent bargain if he quickly emerges as an All-Star like Cespedes, Puig and Abreu did. However, there's hardly any guarantee that he'll be close to that level, which makes it an expensive gamble. With teams like the New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies reportedly showing interest, the price may go up beyond what Boston is comfortable giving to an unproven International prospect.
Assuming the price is reasonable, Castillo seems to be worth the risk and the Red Sox should aggressively pursue him. There may not be room for him at the moment, but in order to re-build on the fly to get back into contention quickly, the Red Sox need to explore obtaining as many assets as they can at a reasonable cost. If Castillo becomes a star then they'll have him locked up on a great deal and some of the younger players become trade bait to help fix bigger needs.
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