There has been much hype surrounding 27-year-old outfielder Rusney Castillo, after the Red Sox inked him to a record seven-year, $72.5 million contract back in August.
The Cuban defector made his organizational debut with the Gulf Coast League Red Sox, who would go on to defeat the Yankees for the GCL title. Castillo went 1-for-5 with a walk and RBI in games two and three of that series.
His next stop would be the Eastern League playoffs with the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs, where he hit .357 with two doubles, two runs batted in, four runs scored, with a walk and a stolen base while playing CF and DH.
After Portland was eliminated by the Binghamton Mets in the five game series, Castillo was promoted to the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox where he would start all five games in the Governor’s Cup series, winning his second championship in a month.
Castillo would play in 11 minor league games before making his major league debut, and hit .293 with five extra-base hits (including a home run), five RBI, seven runs scored, five walks and two stolen bases.
He was promoted to the major league club on September 17 for a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and went 1-for-4 in his debut.
Albeit a small sample size, Castillo certainly impressed in his short time with the big league club in 2014.
In 40 plate appearances he owned a .333/.400/.528 batting line, good for a .928 OPS with two home runs, 6 RBI, three steals and three walks – all while looking very comfortable playing center field.
Before making his organizational debut with the Red Sox, it had been over a year since Castillo had played in a professional baseball game. Due to his limited number of at bats in 2014, Boston sent Castillo to the Arizona Fall League, where he was named to the AFL rising stars team.
After the conclusion of the AFL season, Castillo was then assigned to the Puerto Rican winter league where he is having himself quite a month.
with his 3-for-4(and SB) Saturday for 1st place Caguas, Rusney Castillo's Dec. slash line is .382/.389/.471
— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) December 21, 2014
Castillo’s manager in Puerto Rico is 14-year MLB veteran infielder Alex Cora, who spent four seasons playing for the Boston Red Sox.
Cora has made it no secret how impressed he is with Castillo, both on and off the field.
“When you have a high-profile import, usually they show up, they play, they leave,” Cora said. “They don’t mingle, they could care less about teammates. With Rusney, it’s the total opposite. He’s been like an independent league pitcher who really cares about winning. He pays attention to the game, he wants to win. He’s doing everything possible to help us win games.”
Rusney suffered a small setback when he injured his thumb in the AFL, but has rebounded nicely according to Cora.
“Defensively, he’s been very impressive in center field,” Cora said. “His instincts are great, the jumps he gets. He’s very light on his feet. Luis Matos, who played center field for Baltimore, is my hitting coach and outfield instructor, and he’s very impressed. Luis was a good outfielder.”
“Offensively, he’s still learning, still working on a few things. It’s tough to come here midway through it. The range of stuff he’s facing goes from north to south. There are guys throwing 95 and guys throwing 82 with sinkers and sliders. But he adjusts. I really like [that] he hasn’t tried to pull the ball. The only ball he tried to pull was a breaking ball that he hit for a home run to left-center. He’s been strong to the right-center gap. Of his eight hits, six have been up the middle. That’s the sign of a good hitter not trying to do too much”
With both Castillo and Mookie Betts as potential lead off options, it is uncertain where Castillo will hit in the lineup to begin 2015. One thing is for certain, however, with the addition of Castillo, Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval – the Red Sox lineup is already much better than it was in 2014.