With a $72 million contract, a .333 batting average in his first 10 career major league games, and a hot start to his first trip to Spring Training, it’s hard to argue that Boston’s Rusney Castillo doesn’t deserve a starting role.
For the 27-year old Cuban, this may not be a reality. $88 million dollar man Hanley Ramirez came to Boston in the off-season with a starting spot in left-field locked up, and phenom Mookie Betts has swung his way to a .471 batting average over the course of Spring Training, establishing himself as the front runner for the Opening Day center-fielder role.
This leaves right-field open, but it’s not going to be a walk in the park to earn a job there. The current clubhouse favorite to occupy right-field is 34-year old Shane Victorino, fresh off of a 2014 campaign in which he batted just .268 in 30 games. Injuries forced Victorino off the field for the majority of last year, and when he did see the field, it was a disappointment to say the least.
Through eight Grapefruit League games, Victorino is off to a slow start, with just a .158 average and a .483 OPS.
Sure, Victorino was a key cog on the 2013 World Series squad, but is history enough to justify giving him the starting role over a younger, and quite possibly a more talented Castillo?
Sending Castillo down to Triple-A Pawtucket would be the likely result in this case. While he absolutely is major league ready (given his impressive performance in 2014, albeit in just 40 plate appearences) it’s more important that he get’s playing time as opposed to riding the bench.
This (most likely) leaves some combination of the defensive wizard Jackie Bradley Jr., former National League All-Star Allen Craig, and career platoon man Daniel Nava to fight for those coveted bench outfielder spots.
Is Victorino an acceptable starting right-fielder? Sure, if he can come close to his 2013 form in which he slashed a .294/.351./.451 line with 15 home runs. Given that he’s two years removed from that season and now stuck with an “injury prone” tag, it might be harder to see a successful season for the Hawaiian.
Dan Szymborski of ESPN used his ZIPs calculations to project Victorino to appear in 94 games this season, and post a .261/.317/.393 line with 8 home runs.
He projected Castillo to play in 142 games, with a .269/.326/.386 line, with 11 home runs to boot (He likened Castillo to Mike Devereaux and Victorino to Dan Gladden in his projections, so take that as you may).
So when it’s all said and done, there isn’t a whole lot different offensively between the two, except for the fact that Castillo is projected to appear in just under 50 more games than Victorino.
So the decision for manager John Farrell comes down to this: Play the established veteran who may be on the downside of his career, or play the highly-paid 27-year old with a metric ton of upside and impressive play in just a few games.
But it’s not going to be easy to justify sending Castillo down if he can continues his hot streak, especially for someone like Victorino who, with all due respect, hasn’t played well enough to earn a starting role over the past year.
In theory, it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to start the season off with Victorino while Castillo gets some reps down in Pawtucket. If Victorino goes down with an injury, or just doesn’t perform up to par, Castillo is just a call-up away. Assuming we won’t see Victorino get traded from now to Opening Day on April 13 (But hey, who’s counting?) it’s looking like he’ll be on the Opening Day roster, and more than likely starting.