12-20-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
I told you all I was going to keep walking through this roster, and today I’m taking the next one on. First up was Jack Suwinski, this week is Rodolfo Castro.
I’m taking these in no particular order, just who interests me in the moment, or guys that I think could either turn into fixtures after this year or find themselves getting pushed aside. The really cool thing about covering a team in this stage of a rebuild is the different places players are in.
Rodolfo in particular kinda burst into our consciousness back in 2020. We were in the throws of COVID, baseball was struggling to find a way to come back and play some semblance of a season and the Pirates were deciding who was going to not only make the active roster, but also cherry picking prospects who were going to spend the year at their alternate training site in Altoona instead of being sent home to independently train and wait to be allowed back in the minor league system.
Suddenly some High A baseball player named Rodolfo Castro was added to the list. Nerds like Craig and I were happy because we were both high on him, but even we didn’t expect to hear him praised for being impressive there the way he was.
Even then, nobody knew what to make of this move. Lack of depth defensively? Maybe. Turns out, the Pirates simply loved the kid’s makeup, and scouts drooled over his ceiling.
The now 6 foot tall switch hitting infielder was signed out of the Dominican back in 2015 but pro scouts didn’t really take notice until he was reevaluated in the middle of 2019 as a 20 year old while playing with the Grasshoppers. That’s where his tool ratings jumped.
A 50 Grade Hit tool, 55 Grade Power, 50 Grade Baserunning, a 55 Grade Glove and a 60 Grade Arm, all add up to a guy with a middle infield starter’s ceiling even if utility man was still more likely. To be able to make declarations like that about a 20 year old, folks that’s not an everyday occurrence.
So when Ben Cherington and crew came on board later that year, they made a multitude of changes to the system organizationally including scouts and coaches. Despite all that changeover, one thing that remained was the gushing about this 20 year old, and it was forceful enough to convince the new powers that be to make sure they got their own eyes on him, before a potential Rule 5 decision needed made.
Still raw in 2021 the Pirates called him up to help fill in for Ke’Bryan Hayes and because he was displaying AA power and the upper levels certainly weren’t what they are today. Rodolfo was THE internal infield prospect who wasn’t Oneil Cruz before the Bucs made some moves to bring in additional options.
He’d wind up logging 31 games that year and most people boil his time that season down to the series against the Mets where he seemingly couldn’t do anything but hit homeruns. It’s easy to do that, because that’s just about all he did.
That was his cup of coffee and he was returned to AAA.
In 2022, Castro still was one of the more advanced infield options but the Pirates wanted to let him soak a bit more. When he was called up he was brought into a fairly unwelcoming situation.
The fans wanted Oneil Cruz, but instead got Rodolfo Castro, and to make matters worse, the Pirates wanted to see what Rudy could get done if given a stretch at SS. Now, he’s an “inferior” prospect, not only getting the call up first, but potentially trying out for the position that Cruz was supposed to play. It didn’t go well.
In 19 games at SS he put up a .934 fielding percentage with 5 errors and generally didn’t look comfortable. He struggled with double play exchanges. He struggled with fielding responsibilities on balls in play but not hit to him. His arm, plenty strong for the position failed him as he suddenly lacked the instinct that made him good in the first place. Worse, he was taking it to the plate with him.
Back down he went, and the SS experiment was ended.
He caught fire in AAA, rededicated himself to what the Pirates wanted him to focus on and earned a second call up.
That’s when things really started to come together for him.
This time the Pirates would use him at 3rd and 2nd base, and this time Rodolfo would approach each at bat as a fresh start.
In 253 at bats, he managed 11 homeruns, a .233 batting average and an OPS of .725. Not stellar, but no longer a guess. Rodolfo had finally put some roots in the ground.
The likelihood that Castro is the opening day second baseman is very high, but now isn’t the time for him to feel comfortable. While those numbers he put up would surely keep him in the league, they won’t secure starting anywhere. He’s got Ji-hwan Bae, Diego Castillo, Nick Gonzales, Jared Triolo and Liover Peguero right there, hungry for their own opportunities.
Rodolfo has 20-25 homerun capability. He has all the range and arm strength to be a really capable second baseman. His bat plane and natural inclination to drive balls to the gaps are a PNC Park dream. All that said, for Castro to take the next step he needs to show the power is there when he isn’t swinging out of his shoes. More contact and a few less strikeouts could take him from role player to starter.
Of everyone on this team, almost nobody would be as threatened by a slow start. Again, there are a slew of alternatives and he doesn’t have the Super Star ceiling of his double play partner.
As you all know, I’m all about answering questions. That’s how I see prospects, as questions. To me, to truly answer the Castro question, I need to see him get somewhere between 400 & 500 at bats, regardless of where he plays the field. Never in his career at any level has he had more than 461 at bats and that was split between two levels.
After that, Castro will at least not be a mystery. If he pops those 20-25 dingers and gets the OPS even marginally higher he’ll be a difficult guy to take out of the lineup. Doesn’t mean he’ll eternally block all those other guys, but it does mean he’ll prove he’s a bat they can’t lose in an effort to get playing time for them.
Big year for Rodolfo Castro. I’m still high on him, but I can’t ignore what’s coming. His window is open, but it’s up to him to make sure it stays that way.
Looking forward to watching him play this year.