After beginning the season batting .083 with 16 strikeouts in only 24 at bats, the opening day starting centerfielder Anthony Alford was regularly discussed as a potential DFA candidate; and this morning, prior to the Pirates first game of a doubleheader in Detroit, the seemingly inevitable finally happened. However, this move did not take place in the manner many may have originally thought it would. With Ke’Bryan Hayes due to come off the IL, following the wrist strain he suffered in the second game of the year, it was assumed the DFA of Alford, Dustin Fowler or Wilmer Difo would soon follow; but Ben Cherington obviously didn’t want to wait that long, choosing instead to replace Alford’s spot on the roster with off-season Rule 5 eligible addition, utility infielder, Rodolfo Castro.
For those of you unfamiliar with Castro, he was previously the #26 Prospect on MLB Pipeline and as high as #12 on FanGraphs. Signed on October 30, 2015 from the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old shortstop, Castro smashed 14 homers and collected 29 total extra base hits in the first half of the season in Low A Greensboro in 2019. This resulted in a mid-season promotion to the High A Bradenton Marauders where he struggled at first; slashing 132/.192/.206 in the month of July with only a single home run. Luckily for Castro he quickly adjusted and things did get better, a lot better. For the month of August he hit .299/.346/.443, with 2 homers and 10 extra base hits in only 26 games.
Last season he was a somewhat surprising addition to the Alternate Site in Altoona, where he regularly caught the eye of the Curve Broadcaster, Garett Mansfield, both at the plate and in the field; where he continued to show versatility, which is a trait that Ben Cherington and Derek Shelton have shown that they look for in players. players. More comfortable at second base, he can slide to shortstop and even third base with ease; doing so at every level.
Given the opportunity to participate in Spring Training, Castro hit homers in back to back games from each side of the plate, but struggled at times to earn a meager .138 batting average. As the season began Castro became a regular on the Taxi Squad for away games, eventually getting the aforementioned promotion, and the ultimately the start at third base in the second game of the doubleheader. At first I believed that Castro’s time on the 26-man roster might consist of some pinch hit and late inning defensive substitution work, however, after some thought I realized how smart it was for Shelton and Cherington to get a first hand look at one of the two guys they chose to protect from the Rule 5 Draft. Sooner or later Cherington will be faced with faced with almost identical 40-man roster decisions as the Pirates have at least 13 players of note that will need similar treatment during the upcoming off-season, and he will need to be certain about these moves, as well as his previous ones.
But, there will be more pressing issues concerning the 40-man, and more importantly the 26-man active roster, as the Pirates made a second transaction on the day by picking up outfielder Ka’ai Tom off of waivers from the Oakland Athletics. Selected by the A’s in the first round of the Rule 5 Draft this past December from the Cleveland Indians, Tom had been drafted in the 5th Round of the 2015 MLB June Amateur Draft out of the University of Kentucky. Since this time he had performed fairly well at each level of the Minors; eventually earning All-Star Honors at both AA and AAA in 2019 as he slashed .290/.380/.532 with 23 homers and 60 extra base hits.
After such a successful season it is a little curious that the Indians wouldn’t choose to add him to their 40-man roster to protect him for the Rule 5 Draft. However, with not every team making a selection it is possible they thought he would slip through; which he almost did as the last player selected in the first round, and 16 of 18 in the Major League portion of the draft.
Nevertheless, following a strong Spring Training, where he batted .310 with a .963 OPS and a homer in 29 at bats, he made the opening day roster; only to be DFA’d after hitting .063 in 16 at bats; which brings us up to speed with the current situation, as the Pirates snatched Tom up off waivers before he could be offered back to the Indians. Although, they are now in the same boat that the A’s were as far as keeping him on the 26-man roster; along with fellow Rule 5 Pick Luis Oviedo, and eventually Jose Soriano when he returns from the IL.
So, who is the odd man out, beyond Alford, when Tom is officially added to the 26-man? Not to mention the corresponding move that will accompany Hayes’ reinstatement to the active roster, as both could be made into crucial decisions depending on how Cherington decides to play it. More than likely the easier of the decisions would involve Castro being optioned back to the AAA/Alternate Site to avoid the potential of losing upwards of three players in as many moves when Hayes returns; considering that Alford is already dangling out on the waiver wire, and could be joined by both Dustin Fowler and Wilmer Difo, as all three are out of Minor League Options. However, one of Fowler and Difo could still be be DFA’d without necessarily needing to make room on the 40-man for Tom. Of course there are other players with actual options available, but these would be extremely unlikely to be moved; including Phillip Evans and Kevin Newman, even in spite of Newman’s recent struggles at the plate.
In all actuality the most probable candidate would have to be Fowler as Tom plays in the outfield, same as Fowler; and obviously the .171 batting average with 20 strike outs in a little over 40 at bats. Also, if I am being honest, both Alford and Fowler are somewhat likely to clear waivers and be optioned to AAA if Cherington so chooses. Not that I think it would matter that much to him if they were lost either.
In the end the addition of Tom is another low risk, potential high reward move by Cherington; which has become a pattern for him in these types of acquisitions. Potentially nothing gained, but absolutely nothing lost.