Rusney Castillo (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
There isn’t much buzz around Rusney Castillo. That’s understandable.
Considering what the outfielder has done since signing his seven-year, $72.5 million deal with the Red Sox, expectations have diminished to next to nothing. Over parts of three seasons, Castillo’s contributions to the big league club have amounted to a .262 batting average and .679 OPS with seven home runs over 99 games.
So, with that in mind, even one of Castillo’s biggest supporters, Houston bench coach Alex Cora, is tempering expectations even after the righty hitter’s performance with Cora’s team (Caguas) in the Puerto Rico Winter League.
“I’ve been on this train before and I got burned the first time,” Cora said when appearing on the Bradfo Sho podcast. “A lot of people on Twitter remind me.” (To listen to the entire podcast, click here.)
But, according to Cora, there has been a change in Castillo.
The first thing he has noticed has been a different demeanor off the field, thanks in large part to the presence of the 29-year-old’s mother and child, who have arrived from Cuba.
“One thing about him, and I’m not going to get caught in all the hype and the numbers and all of that, his Mom is here, his kid is here, and there’s something different as far as off the field stuff,” Cora said.
There is also a slightly slimmed down body, which has, according to Cora, led to better baserunning and improved fielding. (He has primarily played left field with Caguas.)
But the biggest change has been Castillo’s approach at the plate. The league’s playoffs are currently unfolding (he scored a pair of runs in Caguas’ Tuesday night win). But prior to the postseason, Castillo managed a .392 batting average and .892 OPS in 14 games.
“There are a lot of balls he drives to right-center, especially against lefties, but against righties you see the red ‘C’ in between shortstop and third base, the roll over,” Cora said. “He has problems catching up to that pitch, but he doesn’t have problems with pitches outside that he can drive to right field.”
He added, “For me, he’s too passive. He understands the strike zone. It’s more like he sees the ball and he’s going to attack instead of thinking, ‘I’m hitting, hitting, hitting and then I’m going to take.’ I said, ‘You feel discipline enough?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I’m discipline.’ ‘So get off the plate and this is winter ball and you see guys throw 87 and guys who throw 95, 96, so don’t go by the results. So, get off the plate and be disciplined enough on the inside part of the plate to take that pitch. You might be 2-0, 3-1, then they have to go outside and that’s your strength.’ So far, so good.”
The challenge for Castillo once spring training rolls around is to get back in the good graces of the Red Sox brass, having to enter camp not on the 40-man roster. But considering how thin the Sox may be in the outfield at the Triple-A level, with Junior Lake and Brian Bogusevic around on minor-league deals, and Bryce Brentz still in the mix, there might be some semblance of an opportunity.
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