Rusney Castillo is not the answer in right field right now
Lack of production? The term seems too generous. Underperforming? That hardly captures the magnitude of what’s occurring.
The performance of Red Sox right fielders this year represents a black hole. It verges on unfathomable how poorly the group has performed. In 34 games — more than one-fifth of a season — Sox right fielders have combined for a .119 average, .222 OBP, and .186 slugging percentage. It almost goes without saying that all three of those marks rank as the worst in baseball.
Even greater context is offered by the notion that those numbers are the worst of nearly every team at any position. No other team has such a low average at any non-pitching position; only the A’s left fielders (.203), Angels left fielders (.190), Orioles shortstops (.221), Brewers catchers (.219), and Rays catchers (.194) have a worse OBP; and no position on any team has accounted for a lower slugging percentage.
The combination of Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava, Brock Holt, Allen Craig, and Jackie Bradley Jr. has represented something akin to pitchers’ production. The Sox must do better.
The situation is made all the more intriguing by the fact that the team seemingly has a well-paid alternative looming in Triple A. Rusney Castillo, whom the club signed for $72.5 million through 2020, is back with the PawSox and is starting to hit. He went 1 for 2 with a pair of stolen bases Wednesday, and in his last seven games, he’s hitting .333 with a .400 OBP and .407 slugging percentage.
Yet there are two problems with the idea of Castillo as an antidote to the woes in right field. First, the 27-year-old provided the Sox with a scare when, on his second steal, he began writhing in pain after sliding into second and flopping over the bag. Initial indications are that the injury isn’t severe — he left McCoy Stadium without any evidence of a limp or discomfort. But the Sox will proceed with some caution.
“Just slid into second base, tweaked his ankle a little bit,” said PawSox manager Kevin Boles. “He came in afterwards and said he’s ready to go. We’ll see how he checks out.
“After the history here [with injuries], and seeing that slide, it was pretty scary. We just want to make sure we err on the side of caution, get him evaluated. We’ll check in, see how he is tomorrow, and go forward from there.”
The injury notwithstanding, Castillo still seems like a player who is out of sync. The slide represented the culmination of a three-inning stretch that gave the impression that Castillo was out of rhythm on the baseball field.
First inning: Though he was credited with a stolen base, the throw beat him by plenty; the infielder simply failed to corral it. He then advanced only to third on a ground-ball single to left. On a one-out shallow fly ball, he bluffed tagging up to force a throw, but he strayed too far from third and was out when the throw to the plate was cut off and thrown behind him.
Second inning: Playing center field, he dived on a soft fly ball to left-center and missed it by perhaps a foot or two. What should have been a single to keep runners on the corners with two outs instead became a run-scoring triple.
Third inning: Castillo was the target for Indianapolis catcher Tony Sanchez on the back end of a double steal with Jemile Weeks. He beat the throw, but the timing of his slide was such that he evidently rolled his ankle.
It simply may have been a bad game, but Castillo looked like a player who has been thrown onto a treadmill going faster than he’s prepared to run right now. And, in some respects, that’s precisely what he is after an oblique injury wiped out weeks of his spring training and a shoulder injury did the same for much of his April in Pawtucket.
At the plate, Castillo doesn’t necessarily show rust. Indeed, his ability to get the barrel on the ball at every level since he signed with the Sox has been noteworthy for a player who has had little semblance of regular playing time dating to his defection from Cuba in 2013.
But the rest of his game likely requires further refinement before he’s ready to contribute at the big league level — something that can come only when he gets regular, healthy playing time.
“I like what I’m seeing from the at-bats,” said Boles. “Hit some balls up the middle. He’s starting to be a little more under control at the plate, I think just settling into games. This is kind of his spring training right now.
“It’s an exciting talent. You saw it in spring training, what he was able to do. You’re seeing the tools. They’re definitely elevated from what we saw last year. It’s just getting consistent playing time with him.
“It’s as simple as that. Keeping him out on the field, getting his at-bats, moving him around to center field and right field. Hopefully he can stay out there and keep pushing forward.”
Castillo will remain in Triple A for now. The Red Sox will see whether Victorino and Bradley splitting duties in right field will provide some improvement — particularly given that Bradley, while 0 for 8 with two strikeouts so far in the big leagues, looked like a very different hitter in Pawtucket this year.
The Sox remain resolute that Castillo’s time will come, that he’ll offer impact at some point, most likely this year. But for now, he remains a player who not only needs time on the field in Pawtucket but who must prove he can stay on the field before he can be summoned to treat the considerable cavity in the lineup in right field.