TAMPA — Nobody said it was going to be easy.
Rusney Castillo downplays the year-plus he was out of organized baseball, but it’s a factor. Everything from pitch recognition to the feel of playing professional baseball every day — even at the Gulf Coast League level, where the pitchers throw hard and wild and where the hitters aren’t as selective as they one day will be.
It’s all part of the journey for the Red Sox’ recent Cuban signee. On Monday he experienced being part of a championship team after the GCL Red Sox beat the Yankees, 8-1, a game that included a two-run homer by the Red Sox’ No. 1 draft pick, shortstop Michael Chavis, who DH’d, a solo shot by shortstop Javier Guerra, and a bases-loaded walk from Castillo.
On a hot, sticky day at the Yankees’ minor league facility, both former Red Sox closer Andrew Bailey (who has spent the season rehabilitating from Tommy John surgery at this complex) and former Red Sox second baseman Jody Reed (the Yankees’ minor league field coordinator) watched Castillo play. Better days surely await him.
“I saw him down here when the Yankees gave him his individual workout and he looked very good,” Bailey said. “I’m sure it’s going to take him a while to get into baseball shape and get used to the daily grind of things. But he looks like a great athlete.”
The results certainly weren’t there Monday.
Castillo went 0 for 3 with two ground outs and a pop to right field. The bases-loaded walk came on four pitches and he admitted to being tempted to swing, “but I was looking for a fastball over the middle of the plate and didn’t get it, so I didn’t swing.”
He played five innings in center field and didn’t get one chance, which he seemed disappointed about. What stood out was how shallow he played, a sign he trusts himself going back on balls.
Laz Gutierrez, a Cuban-American and Boston’s Player Development Programs Coordinator, has taken Castillo under his wing, acting as his personal coach and a translator.
“He absolutely wants to make plays out there in center field, but he was just happy to be out there,” said Gutierrez in translating Castillo’s response to the media.
Castillo smiled a lot during his media session, a sign he is relaxed. He seemed to be interacting with his teammates, joining in the celebration of their championship.
Concerning the 27-year-old Castillo’s shallow positioning in center, Gutierrez said, “Typically when he knows the hitter, he plays a certain way, but he doesn’t know these guys so he was playing by how they looked physically. Bigger guys he would play deeper and skinnier and smaller guys he played shallow.”
Though we haven’t seen it yet, Castillo is supposed to be aggressive on the base paths and in the outfield. The Red Sox brass, represented by assistant director of Florida baseball operations Ethan Faggett, wanted to get Castillo as much work as possible without overextending him his second time out.
The fact that Castillo got four plate appearances was a good thing.
Castillo said that he asked Gutierrez to ask manager Tom Kotchman if he could play all nine innings, but that wasn’t the organizational game plan. But Castillo believes he’s ready to play nine right now. That will come as he works up to the major leagues in the next couple of weeks.
Red Sox manager John Farrell confirmed that Castillo’s next step will be playing for Double A Portland Wednesday in Binghamton, N.Y., in the Eastern League playoffs.
Single A Salem also made its postseason, but the Red Sox wanted to see Castillo at one of the higher-level teams next, Farrell said.
Farrell said the Red Sox do not have a specific number of games or plate appearances in mind for Castillo before he joins the major league roster.
“No. I think we looked at it as, let’s get every available at-bat before those teams shut down before we would entertain the thought if the next step is here with us,” he said.
Castillo said the results “were not what I wanted” in his second game, but he believes the more experience he gets seeing live pitching, the better he’ll get. He didn’t think there was any pitch that was giving him more problems than the next. His timing was obviously not quite where he wanted it to be, as he topped a couple of balls in the infield and missed getting the ball on the barrel on the short pop to right field.
The Gulf Coast Sox had a tough beginning to their day with a bus mix-up. The team had taken the bus to Tampa from Fort Myers Saturday night. The driver then went home with the bus. The problem was, the equipment was in the bus and the driver cut it close coming back. The game was almost delayed but the driver managed to get the team to the field an hour before the scheduled noon start and the game began on time.
The Sox poured it on from the start and never let the Yankees get in it as Sox starter Jake Cosart pitched three strong innings with five strikeouts and Luis Ramos threw four scoreless innings to earn the win.
So far Castillo is 1 for 5 with a bases-loaded walk in two games.
Nobody said it was going to be easy.
But Castillo seems confident in his ability and he doesn’t seem to be fretting over his slow start.