Almost a month ago at this point, General Manager Ben Cherington and the Pittsburgh Pirates made one of the more surprising trades surrounding the impending deadline; exchanging the services of Clay Holmes to the Yankees for a pair of intriguing prospects-the first of whom Pirates Fans have gotten a first hand look at, in the form of one Hoy Jun Park. Over his first 16 games with Pittsburgh Park has played all over the field, while batting .222 with a single homer; which had kind of become his calling card in Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes-Barre, where he had hit a career high 10 in only 171 at bats.
For Park this offensive outburst was honestly, unexpected, and he has obviously cooled off a bit since then with some time to regain at least some semblance of what he had been in Triple-A, but if he doesn’t no harm no foul.
Now the second prospect in the deal, Diego Castillo, was one that had some built in fascination simply because he slotted into the Fangraphs Updated Prospect list at #22 for the Pirates. However, much of his past performance and potential future roster complications were overlooked, even by me to a degree, due to his slash line of .278/.345/.504 with 11 homers-more than his previous five seasons in the Minors combined-this season with the Double-A Somerset Patriots.
Originally signed by the Yankees in December of 2014 for $750,000 out of Barquisimeto, Venezuela at the age of 17, Castillo steadily rose throw the ranks of their farm system from the Dominican Summer League in 2015 to the High-A Tampa Tarpons in 2018; even though his overall value dropped from 130 to 83 wRC+ and his power failed to develop as his ISO hovered below .100 for the most part, his defense (see below) and his overall approach at the plate (10.4% K to 6.4%) still made him an interesting prospect. However, it did not earn him his next promotion; staying with the Tarpons for the second straight season in 2019.
Then came the layoff, in what would have been his sixth season in the Minors; although he did get credit for it. But, more on that later.
In 2021, Castillo came back with a vengeance, or maybe the power just finally developed, as he is only in his 23 year old season; hence the interest from Cherington and company thanks to his 11 homers and .228 ISO as the ground balls decreased-a pattern that actually started in 2019. And fortunately for Castillo-and the Pirates-there has been no drop off from Somerset to Altoona. In 21 games and 81 at bats, he has blasted another 5 home runs, walked (8) more than he has struck out (7) and kept his average (.284) and ISO (.222) pretty much on the level.
Nevertheless, there is an impending decision coming just after the end of the season that could make this burst of excitement from Pirates Fans all for not. One that many may not be aware of.
Remember, when I made note of Castillo’s accrual of a sixth season in spite of the Minor League shutdown? Well, that would make 2021 lucky number 7 for the soon to be 24 year old Venezuelan. To the causal fan this might not mean much, but to Mr. Castillo it means eligibility for free agency five days after the World Series concludes as a Rule 9 (formerly a Rule 55); and potentially a significant pay bump for the first time in his career.
As a Double-A player Castillo is more than likely scheduled to receive a salary of approximately $12,600. This would increase to around $14,700. Now, as a Minor League Veteran Free Agent it is possible that he could see this at least double, or increase significantly more if he is in high demand.
So, what can the Pirates do to prevent this from happening, if they were inclined to do so? The simplest answer is add him to their 40-Man Roster, which may need to happen anyway to protect him from the Rule 5 draft; albeit, it is not his first go-around in that arena. The only other option is a successor contract prior to free agency. In order for this to happen Castillo would have to see the Pirates Farm System as the best opportunity for him, both on the field and financially.
Simply based on his production over this season, I want to see more. However, the 40-Man Roster has limited spots, and I’m not sure if I have seen enough; if that makes any sense.
Luckily, there is still over a month in the Minor League season to evaluate his performance before Cherington has to make this decision.