Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com: (Sept. 22, 2015 – Source: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images North America)
There have been quite a few long-term contract snafus the Boston Red Sox have handed out over the last decade. Think Pablo Sandoval. Think Carl Crawford. Even think David Price. Expensive, multi-year deals always come with inherent risk and are given mostly to players nearing their age-30 season.
Well, Pawtucket outfielder Rusney Castillo received his seven-year, $72M contract going into his age-27 season. He has been with the organization for four years now and has made exactly 337 big-league plate appearances. In fact, he has not sniffed the majors since 2016 and has not played for Boston with any regularity since 2015.
His contract has already been written off as a failure, despite having three more years left after the conclusion of ’18. Still, over the last two seasons in Triple-A, he has done what he has supposed to: hit the ball well. Looking at his batted ball data, he has been lifting the ball more, cutting into a GB% (groundball percentage) that was once at 60 percent. This has been the salient reason for his improvement.
Early in his Pawtucket/Red Sox career, Castillo would post GB/FB (groundball to flyball ratios) near 2.50. Over the past two seasons, he has seen his ratio fall to a much more respectable 1.50. While he still does not hit that many balls in the air, he has increased his launch angle. He is hitting a much higher percentage of line drives, which are more likely to fall for hits and extra-base hits than groundballs.
As of this writing, he has produced a .325 AVG/.368 OBP/.425 SLG slash line in 451 plate appearances in Triple-A this year. That is good for a 125 wRC+, meaning he has produced runs 25 percent higher than the average hitter. Granted, he has been helped by a rather unsustainable .375 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) this season. His power is way down compared to ’17 with his ISO (isolated power) falling to .101 this season (from .193 last year).
Instead, he has found value by taking free bases at a higher rate, at least compared to last season. His BB% (base on balls percentage) has doubled from 3.0 percent last year to 6.0 percent this year. It is still quite the paltry walk rate but helps explain his production (along with his BABIP) with the tremendous amount of power that has been sapped from his bat.
Castillo has always been a contact-orientated hitter, a rarity in a era where three true outcomes (strikeouts, walks and homeruns) players are more prevalent than ever. This is not necessarily a bad thing but, if one is going to do this, it would be better if they did not hit the ball into the ground like he did in his younger days.
He has retained his foot speed, swiping 25 bags since 2017. In fact, 2017 (14) marked his season-high in stolen bases at any level. With 11 swiped bags this season, he will have a chance to break that in the last month or so of the Triple-A calendar. Meanwhile, his defense is probably still, at the very least, average. He flashed some impressive glove work at the big-league level but he has aged since then. At age 31, the right-handed batsmen is probably seeing some of his defensive acumen erode.
To be candid, it seems like Castillo could be a fringe bench player at the MLB level. Some people have speculated he could be ready to take off as a starting outfielder but that’s probably a bit optimistic. His success this season has been carried by an unsustainable BABIP and, without the power he showed in ’17, he probably would struggle hitting against MLB pitchers. Again, with him, it is all about quality of contact off the bat.
He does not have great peripheral tools, so it is not like his defense or speed would make up for his lack of offensive production. It seems obvious he won’t get the chance to crack the majors with the Red Sox for the foreseeable future. He is making far too much money for how he is performing at Triple-A and Boston has a litany of great outfielders. If he were to be called up, his sizable contract would count against the luxury tax. He makes $11M next season and that’s way too much for a potentially solid bench piece.
Moreover, there have been clamors for Boston to deal Castillo to another team. There is this belief that he would net some sort of prospect capital if the Sox were willing to absorb some of his contract. It is not clear if that would even be the case. His 2018 season is conspicuously ballooned by good fortune. MLB teams are much smarter than they once were.
While he has certainly improved over the past two years, Rusney Castillo does not profile as a sure-fire contributor at the highest level. It feels like Boston will be stuck with his albatross of a contract until its expiration. Even if they manage to hand him over to another team, they would probably not receive anything of value; not even financial relief.
Then again, if he could find some of that power he showed last year, he may very well become valuable. I always like to end articles with a glass half full.