1-25-23 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
2023 will be the third season of Major League baseball that Rodolfo Castro has participated in and it’ll also be his most important.
See, nobody expected the 21 year old kid called up from AA in April of 2021 to do much of anything. Even to those of us who had watched him and looked forward to his arrival thought it was a bit rushed.
Still, we were happy to see him, and while he largely struggled, his first 5 hits were homeruns. This created a narrative that Castro was “swinging for the fences” every time he came to the dish, but to say that is to ignore his track record. Swinging hard, missing a lot, punishing the ball when he got one, these were the calling cards for the young Dominican by the time he reached Low A as a 19 year old.
2021 was just a cup of coffee for Rodolfo. 2022 was almost a perfect split between AAA and MLB. Up and down, mistakes and triumph, athletic prowess mixed with painful lapses in focus, you know, a rookie.
He was given a run at SS, 19 games to be exact, and it didn’t go well. He was asked to cover 3B 24 times, and he looked much more at home over there. Finally the Pirates moved him to 2B for 32 games and while it wasn’t perfect, at least his issues were more about decision making and inexperience than they were lacking the ability.
By the vast majority of the fan base (and this writer in particular) Castro is for now the top 2B, in other words it should be his position to lose as we head to Spring.
All that base shuffling was important. Finding out where Rodolfo can help, and maybe shouldn’t is simply information you have to have moving forward.
For years I’ve been telling you the bats will tell the story, and determine who plays. So as these prospects filter on in, seeing them bounce around really says less about how the team feels about that player in particular in the field as it speaks to how much they believe this player’s bat could force them to find a place for him to play.
In 2022, Castro played in 71 ballgames and took 278 plate appearances. With those at bats he hit 11 homeruns, 4 triples, 8 doubles, walked 22 times and struck out 74. All of this gave him an acceptable OPS of .725 and collectively with his defensive work he put forward a 1.4 WAR season.
Not great, not bad, but securely in the above average range.
In 2023, Castro’s next step will be interesting. The Pirates are going to likely want to get him into the 500-550 plate appearances echelon. To do that, he’s going to likely get a ton of time at second base.
Now, before you jump down my throat with your I want to see Ji-hwan Bae takes. Before you tell me Nick Gonzales is the future. Before you argue that Liover Peguero and his superior range would be a better 2B, let’s not ignore what Castro has already shown, and why its key to find out what he can do at the plate to the degree I feel he has to get those at bats.
In all the time he’s gotten at this level, Rudy has taken 371 plate appearances, and he’s hit 16 homeruns with them. If you forecast out what his 162 game average would look like even if he stayed at this level of production you get to 25 homeruns. Let me clarify that, if he gets no better, that’s a nice bat with enough OPS to matter and easily a 3+ WAR player.
That could very well add up to Castro being a utility guy mind you.
Folks, if you get that out of a player, I don’t care where he plays, he’s going to get more at bats.
Now, back to the very valid concerns about some of the other guys who should or could take some of that playing time or at bats. If you’re really thinking about the future of this position, I can’t sit here and tell you Castro will hold it down defensively, but I can say, if you give him the at bats in 2023 and he proves out that side of his game minimally, boy a nice homegrown DH who switch hits and can pop 25 homeruns is pretty attractive too isn’t it?
What this could mean for this team moving forward, well, it could mean they have no reason to go get a Carlos Santana in 2024.
Rookies don’t always burst on the scene and stake claim to the position they were always supposed to play. While there is no guarantee Castro will remain at 2B, there is no guarantee Bae, Gonzales, Peguero or I’ll even throw in Tucupita Marcano will ever hit to even the level Rodolfo already has. With what the Pirates have done to the roster this offseason, they’ve certainly improved the team, but they’ve also made at bats for youngsters a premium commodity.
They must spend them wisely. Kicking the can down the road on someone like Castro will only leave questions lingering into 2024 about his abilities.
I expect many of the names I listed in this piece to get much the same chance to play that Castro himself received in 2021. They may have to get creative about making that happen. Meaning, if they were to have someone like Peguero take a big step early, well, he’s on the 40-man, and already in his second year of being rostered, the Pirates should rightly have some urgency to start the process.
Ji-hwan Bae just made the roster at the end of 2022, while I’m very interested to see him, they may have to take advantage of his ability to play other spots to work his bat in.
Nick Gonzales isn’t even on the 40-man, and honestly the urgency to get him up here is arguably greater on the fan front than to the team.
Marcano is simply not someone I fully understand as a prospect as we sit here. I think he can play a little at a lot of places, but I’m not sure I’ve seen the signs the bat is going to matter quite yet.
Bottom line, I want to see the Pirates do whatever is necessary to make sure Castro gets a full bucket of at bats, and if that comes at the expense of someone else, it’s worth it just to answer the question to me.
I’m going to add in one more caveat here that I think matters, and directly speaks to why I’d like to see some consistency at second base this season. This position matters to the development of Oneil Cruz too. Having a consistent double play partner should help eliminate one aspect of defense he’s concerned about, allowing him to focus on just making plays.
Developing prospects doesn’t stop when you get called up, and for Rodolfo Castro 2023 is his chance to prove he’s officially finished being a prospect, and ready to call himself a major leaguer.
One thought on “The Evolution of Rodolfo Castro”
I’m beginning to see the possibility of Castro, and Gonzalez getting OF reps as we move ahead and maybe in the long term. Nice problems to have, funding a place for talented kids to play.
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