Spring Training Update: Jose Castillo's Fate

We can all admit that when we heard Jim Tracy name Jose Bautista the starting third baseman, we were a bit surprised.
I thought—as did many members of the blogosphere—that the Spring Training competition between the Joses was all for show. Bautista, to me, projects as a more useful super-utility player than an everyday starter (at least at this stage in his career). Castillo’s been a semi-regular contributor in the starting lineup since 2004, and it’s a shame to give up on a 25-year-old with 1,200 major-league at bats under his belt.
As Pat said to Steeltown Mike:

It seems like a lot of times you come into Spring Training and the manger says there’s going to be a competition for a job, and he’s just trying to light a fire under somebody, and I thought that was the case with Castillo…

But now, our clunky second baseman has gone and lost his job.
For the sake of reference, let me toss a few stats your way before I continue on in my attempt to summarize what may become of Jose Castillo:

   

AB

HR

RBI

AVG

OPS

Bautista

Career

516

16

54

.225

.694

Castillo

 

1271

33

157

.258

.689

Bautista

2006

400

16

51

.235

.755

Castillo

 

518

14

65

.253

.681

Bautista

2007 ST

51

0

9

.235

.567

Castillo  

42

0

3

.286

.635

The way I see it, there are four distinct possibilities that could come into play.

  • Freddy’s not healthy, and Castillo starts the season at second
  • Castillo plays the super-utility role
  • Castillo is optioned to Indianapolis
  • Castillo is traded

Let’s start from the top and work to the bottom.
Freddy Sanchez’s knee strain is more serious than we thought, and he won’t be able to start on Opening Day.
Said Jim Tracy to Paul Meyer in the P-G:

“We’re still looking at our bench and today Jose Castillo is part of that bench–-today,” Tracy said, emphasizing the word each time. “Today he is. You’re hopeful he ends up being there. We have [a week] to go. We’re going to see how different things take place and how he responds.”
So there’s a possibility he won’t be on the bench opening day?
“This is my answer: Today he’s on our club as a reserve utility player in the infield,” Tracy said firmly. “No other commitment beyond that.”

Meyer brought forth that line of argument during his appearance on Friday’s radio broadcast. He seems to think it means that Castillo’s not going to make the 25-man roster. I’m not so sure.
While reports have Freddy swinging the bat well in minor-league games, it’s been weeks since we’ve seen him in the Pirates’ Grapefruit League lineup. Again, as Pat let on during Steeltown Mike’s show, the batting champ could roll out of bed and bloop a single into right field. He might start a bit slower than normal, but after a few games he’d be going full blast.
The only thing in his way is a balky knee. As Tracy says, “You’re hopeful [Castillo] ends up [on the bench],” as that’d mean Freddy’s ready to play. If Freddy needs a quick rehab assignment (or extended Spring Training) to catch up, then both Joses could start the opener against Houston.
Transitioning into the next possible scenario…
Time spent playing right field during the Venezuelan Winter League and this spring’s experiment at third have Castillo prepared to be used as a poor man’s Rob Mackowiak.
Anyone who watched the Pirates last year is worried about this one. You know I’m not much of a sabermetrician, but I don’t need range factor to tell me Castillo played a lousy second base last year. What makes you think poor fielding at a player’s natural position would translate into success at other areas on the diamond?
That having been said, maybe Tracy’s convinced that Castillo can be a useful bench piece. He’d likely be limited to second and third base and right field—meaning Don Kelly or Jose Hernandez would make the club to cover shortstop—but perhaps his power bursts and newfound “versatility” have management believing he’d be a supersub candidate.
It’s possible, too, that Bautista and Castillo could platoon at third, though their splits don’t suggest that’d be a useful arrangement. Tracy could mix and match based on pitching matchups and each player’s history. It wouldn’t be a lefty/righty situation; instead, you’d play Bautista against guys he’s had success against. Both Joses would be utility guys in that sense, I suppose.
I’m not sold on this one. Even if it doesn’t happen in April, I believe that if Jose’s not earning regular playing time…
The Pirates take advantage of Castillo’s contract status and send him to Indianapolis for full-time at bats.
Jose still has an option year remaining. A quick summary from Cot’s Baseball Contracts:

When a player is added to the 40-man roster, his club has three “options,” or three separate seasons during which the club may to move him to and from the minor leagues without exposing him to other clubs. A player on the 40-man roster playing in the minors is on optional assignment, and within an option season, there is no limit on the number of times a club may demote and recall a player. However, a player optioned to the minor leagues may not be recalled for at least 10 days, unless the club places a Major League player on the disabled list during the 10-day window.

Two possible outcomes here. First, the Pirates demote Castillo and he’s driven to earn a trip back to the show. His plate discipline improves, he hustles to balls in the field and he keeps his head in the game. Second, he takes the Chris Duffy rout and starts to pout. He’s disheartened by playing Triple A baseball again, and he gives up. He immediately projects to be Neifi Perez at best.
Jose probably could use a little more development. We’re all aware of the holes in his game. The knock, though, is that most of the problems are mental. Scouts say the physical skills are there—we’ve seen the monster home runs and the slick fielding. Is a stint in the minors what it takes to bring them out consistently? I’m not so sure.
It could be that Castillo’s turned himself into the bastard son, a la Craig Wilson, and that he won’t get used much by the Pirates no matter what happens on the roster. If that’s the case, then…
With a week left before Opening Day, a team looking for depth at second base trades for Castillo.
This would be the epitome of selling low on a player. A team would need to be all kinds of desperate if they envisioned Jose as a quick fix to their second base woes. On a contender, Jose’s still in Triple A working on his swing.
Teams that could use a boost in the infield off the top of my head: Kansas City, Oakland, New York, Atlanta, Washington, Chicago. Other organizations (like San Francisco and Los Angeles) might be interested in Castillo for 2008.
What could we get for him in a one-for-one deal? Not much. I’d like to roll the dice on a Kyle Davies or a Ryan Church. Would the Braves or Nats do something along those lines? It remains to be seen.
Alternatively, the Bucs could package together a group of spare parts—say Castillo, Chacon and McLouth—in an attempt to upgrade the organization’s depth at third base. That’d be too good to be true.

Author: Randy Linville

Randy is currently living and thriving in suburban Dayton, OH with his wife and two kids. He was raised in Cincinnati, OH and attended Anderson High School. He went to Miami University (Ohio) and received a degree in Paper Science Engineering from MU. He is a devout Christian and a pop culture buff. He coaches his son’s baseball and basketball teams and his daughters softball and basketball teams. Randy has been a Pirates fan since the late 1970s and has fond memories of the 1979 World Series team. He began blogging for Most Valuable Network in 5/2004 after stumbling across a help-wanted sign for a Pirates blogger. He wrote for Pittsburgh Lumber Co. until the site merged with Pirates Prospects in 2/2011.

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  • http://tylersarticles.blogspot.com Tyler Hissey

    Cory, I was really surprised to see Bautista named as the everyday third baseman especially after discussing it with you the other day. You can only hope that Sanchez will be healthy on Opening Day.

  • http://mvn.com/mlb-pirates Cory Humes

    Questionable move to say the least. We’ll know more about the motivation behind it in the next week or so, I guess.

  • http://www.mvn.com Connor Whelan

    First of all let me say this. The pirates suck. Ya ya i like them too but they suck. When will they get good? People have been saying since 1998 that well get better next year. Well the pirates dont have many next years if they keep losing. They need to do something to actually win. Whose fault is it? No it isnt the coaches. ITS THE TALENT. The pirates have *young* talent but the wins and loss columns dont care what type of talent u have. They care about the Ws. something the buccos need fast.