Rusney Castillo. (Jillian Souza/Pawtucket Red Sox)

Rusney Castillo. (Jillian Souza/Pawtucket Red Sox)

PITTSBURGH — It’s going to be a busy offseason for Rusney Castillo.

According to a source familiar with the situation, Castillo is on the verge of committing to playing in both the Arizona Fall League and the Puerto Rican Winter League this offseason.

Castillo — who is scheduled to make his major league debut Wednesday — would be joining an AFL team (the Surprise Saguaros) that already includes Red Sox prospects Deven Marrero, Sean Coyle, Keith Couch, Aaron Kurcz and Madison Younginer. That season begins Oct. 7 and runs until Nov. 15.

Castillo’s commitment in Puerto Rico would be abbreviated, with the outfielder right now planning to play in the league for just one month.

The last Red Sox player to execute such an offseason was Christian Vazquez, who played in both leagues following the 2012 season.

“It was a lot,” said Vazquez, who also plans on playing in Puerto Rico this coming offseason. “I saw a lot of baseball. I came out of it better. If you work, you play a lot, you’re going to get better.”

“In Arizona, they throw harder than in Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico there are a lot of breaking balls, which is good because we need to see that. The Arizona Fall League is probably better talent, a lot of prospects. But in Puerto Rico you have veteran guys looking for jobs. It’s chance to learn with the veterans there. I listened a lot.”

Castillo finished his minor league stint totaling nearly 50 at-bats, and will now rotate in with Jackie Bradley, Yoenis Cespedes, Daniel Nava and Allen Craig in the Red Sox’ outfield.

“He needs to play,” Vazquez said. “For me, that winter helped me a lot.”

Blog Author: 
Rob Bradford
Rusney Castillo punctuated his 11-game minor league stint with his first pro homer. (Jillian Souza/Pawtucket Red Sox)

Rusney Castillo punctuated his 11-game minor league stint with his first pro homer. (Jillian Souza/Pawtucket Red Sox)

A wildly successful season in Triple-A Pawtucket came to an anticlimactic conclusion, as the PawSox (three days removed from their International League Governor’s Cup trophy) lost to the Omaha Storm Chasers, 4-2, in the Triple-A Championship Game on Tuesday night. While the Pawtucket lineup was held largely in check, the contest featured a few prospect performances of note:

– Rusney Castillo closed out his minor league warmup with a bang, lining a homer over the fence in left on the first pitch of the bottom of the first, wasting little time before jumping on the offering. Castillo showed a situational penchant for ambushing first-pitch fastballs in some at-bats, underscoring the view of him as an aggressive hitter (not necessarily the prototypical leadoff hitter) who looks to drive the ball rather than merely remaining content to put the ball in play and use his considerable speed. Here’s what the homer looked like:

Castillo, who went 1-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts (one swinging, one looking on a curveball that appeared outside) in Tuesday’s championship game, concluded his 11-game minor league tuneup by hitting .293 (12-for-41) with a .370 OBP, .463 slugging mark, five walks, nine strikeouts and five extra-base hits (four doubles and Tuesday’s homer).

Castillo is slated to make his Sox debut in center field on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh. Here’s a primer on the 27-year-old based on the limited opportunity to evaluate him in his three-level tour of the minors.

– First baseman Travis Shaw closed out his year on a high note, going 3-for-4 with a homer. Shaw had a tumultuous postseason. He was 6-for-13 with a homer, two doubles and five walks through his first four games, then went 3-for-22 with one walk, 11 strikeouts and no extra-base hits in his next four games before Tuesday’s finale. Shaw closed out the year with 23 homers, most among Sox minor leaguers. The 24-year-old likely needs more minor league seasoning to see if he can make the adjustments to lower his strikeout rate (he whiffed in 22.0 percent of plate appearances following his promotion from Double-A to Pawtucket), but his offensive profile — with the raw materials to combine extra-base hits and solid on-base percentages — is intriguing enough that he’ll represent a very interesting subject of conversation for protection on the 40-man roster to keep him from being eligible for the Rule 5 draft.

– Right-hander Dalier Hinojosa, 28, completed his first pro season with a scoreless inning in which he walked a batter but did not give up a hit. Hinojosa offers a reminder that, the performances of players like Yoenis Cespedes and Jose Abreu notwithstandig, there can be transitional challenges for players going from Cuba to the big leagues. Through the first half of his debut, he struggled to a 5.93 ERA, experiencing adjustments to both the level of play and to subtler elements such as the weather, as he was learning to pitch in a cold-weather climate for the first time. But he found a groove starting near the end of June, and in his final 40 1/3 innings of the year (including the postseason), he had a 1.79 ERA with 42 strikeouts and 15 walks. Opponents hit just .179 against him.

– Left-hander Edwin Escobar showed powerful stuff before a lengthy rain delay forced the starter from the game after five innings. The 22-year-old allowed two runs on six hits (three singles, two doubles and a homer) and two walks in five innings, during which he punched out six. The two walks ended a string of three straight starts spanning 18 innings in which he hadn’t walked a batter. In eight starts with the PawSox following his acquisition from the Giants in exchange for Jake Peavy, Escobar had a 3.38 ERA with 38 strikeouts and just 10 walks in 48 innings.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the last of 155 more-or-less-daily minor league roundups for the 2014 minor league season. There will be semi-regular coverage of the minor league system and Red Sox prospects, including detailed analysis of any transactions involving prospects, and of both Fall and Winter League performances throughout the coming months. More immediately, there are a couple of Minor Details podcasts to come in the next couple of weeks, including an opportunity for Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett to answer your questions about Red Sox prospects and the farm system. Submit questions either by sending an email to aspeier@weei.com or by contacting me on Twitter at @alexspeier. Thanks for reading!

Blog Author: 
Alex Speier

The Red Sox will play the second game of their road series against the Pirates on Wednesday, sending out Clay Buchholz against veteran Francisco Liriano.

In another good outing last Thursday, a rejuvenated Buchholz (8-8, 5.19 ERA) pitched 6 1/3 innings of two-run ball against the Royals. He notched seven strikeouts in the winning effort, his third consecutive victory.

Manager John Farrell was most impressed by the right-hander’€™s location on his pitches throughout the start in Kansas City.

“As we’ve seen over the last four starts, he’s been very efficient, he’s had multiple pitches,” Farrell said. “I thought he had a great changeup to go along with a well-located fastball tonight, and he continues to pitch very effectively, very consistent.”

Last week’€™s start is just one of the many quality outings Buchholz has put together in latter part of the season. Over his previous four starts, he’€™s allowed no more than three runs or six hits in one outing. On Aug. 31, he threw a complete game against the Rays, one start after he pitched 8 1/3 innings vs. the Blue Jays.

So far through September, Buchholz has a 2.84 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP in two starts. Before the All-Star Game, the 30-year-old’€™s ERA was near six. Since then, it’€™s under five, thanks in part to his recent success.

Unlike his starts at Fenway Park, Buchholz has pitched well away from Boston. In 13 starts, he’€™s compiled a 3.96 ERA and a 5-3 record. Opposing hitters have a .241 batting average against him on the road compared to a .309 mark at home. Against National League opponents this season, though, Buchholz has only managed to pitch 13.2 innings combined over three starts, allowing 13 runs.

Buchholz has yet to face the Pirates in his career. However, catcher Russell Martin has been a thorn in the right-hander’€™s side with four home runs in 12 career plate appearances.

Liriano (5-10, 3.53 ERA) has resurrected his career over the last two years since moving to the Pirates. The left-hander formed an almost-unhittable duo with veteran Johan Santana in 2006 with the Twins. But an elbow injury and Tommy John Surgery derailed his career in the American League. Despite a strong 2010 season, Liriano posted ERAs over five in both 2011 and 2012. Since joining Pittsburgh in 2013, however, the 31-year-old is back to his old form.

After a career-best 16 wins last season, Liriano hasn’€™t put up the same win totals, though he has pitched nearly as well. Last Thursday against the Phillies, Liriano tossed eight scoreless innings, which included a season-high 12 strikeouts.

“I felt great,” Liriano said after his last start. “I had pretty good command, I was getting ahead in the count and I had pretty good location with every pitch.”

The start against the Phillies followed a game in which Liriano struck out nine over six scoreless frames against the Cubs on Sept. 6.

At PNC Park this season Liriano hasn’t had his best stuff, allowing 39 earned runs over 76 2/3 innings. While his WHIP is a solid 1.09 on the road, it’€™s 1.45 at home. He hasn’t fared well against American League opponents this season either, as he has a 7.36 ERA in three starts against teams in the senior circuit. In five career starts against the Red Sox, he has a 1-3 record with a 7.01 ERA.

Jemile Weeks has done the most damage of any Red Sox against Liriano, collecting four hits in 12 at-bats.

Red Sox vs. Liriano (LHP)

Allen Craig (16 career plate appearances): .143 average/.188 OBP/.357 SLG, 1 home run, 4 RBIs, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts

Jemile Weeks (12): .333/.333/.417, 2 strikeouts, 1 double

Yoenis Cespedes (8): .143/.250/.143, 1 strikeout

Mike Napoli (6): .167/.167/.667, 1 home run, 3 RBIs, 3 strikeouts

David Ortiz (6): .200/.333/.400, 1 double, 2 RBIs, 1 walk, 1 strikeout

David Ross (3): .000/.000/.000

Pirates vs. Buchholz (RHP)

Travis Snider (18): .059/.111/.059, 1 RBI, 1 walk, 9 strikeouts

Russell Martin (12): .333/.333/1.333, 4 home runs, 7 RBIs, 1 strikeout

Gaby Sanchez (6): .000/.000/.000, 3 strikeouts

Chris Stewart (4): .000/.250/.000

Brent Morel (3): .000/.000/.000, 1 RBI

Blog Author: 
Andrew Battifarano

Rusney Castillo is poised to make his big league debut on Wednesday. (Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)An evaluator in Pawtucket last week was asked about Rusney Castillo.

"We just don't know," he said. "We have no idea."



Though outfielder Rusney Castillo launched the first homer of his pro career — jumping on a first-pitch fastball while leading off the bottom of the first and sending a liner over the fence in left-center — the PawSox were otherwise held in check for most of the night by the Omaha Storm Chasers, ultimately falling in the Triple-A championship game, 4-2.

Though outfielder Rusney Castillo launched the first homer of his pro career — jumping on a first-pitch fastball while leading off the bottom of the first and sending a liner over the fence in left-center — the PawSox were otherwise held in check for most of the night by the Omaha Storm Chasers, ultimately falling in the Triple-A championship game, 4-2.

Castillo went 1-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts. Travis Shaw provided the other offensive fireworks for the PawSox, going 2-for-3 with a game-tying solo homer in the bottom of the sixth against Royals prospect Kyle Zimmer. But the tie proved short-lived, as Pawtucket reliever Miguel Celestino permitted a two-run homer in the top of the seventh to catcher Brett Hayes that resulted in the final score.

The PawSox have now won the International League‘s Governor’s Cup Finals but lost in the Triple-A championship game in two of the last three years. More to come from the game in Wednesday’s Minor League Roundup.

Blog Author: 
Alex Speier

(For the final month of the regular season, ‘€œClosing Time’€ will be called ‘€œWhy you should have cared,’€ looking beyond the final score ‘€” at a time when losses are arguably more valuable to the Sox than wins (for draft and waiver position) ‘€” for either meaningful signs for 2015 or simple aesthetic considerations.)

(For the final month of the regular season, ‘€œClosing Time’€ will be called ‘€œWhy you should have cared,’€ looking beyond the final score ‘€” at a time when losses are arguably more valuable to the Sox than wins (for draft and waiver position) ‘€” for either meaningful signs for 2015 or simple aesthetic considerations.)

Anthony Ranaudo has now given up 10 homers in 32 1/3 innings in the big leagues. (Getty Images)

Anthony Ranaudo has now given up 10 homers in 32 1/3 innings in the big leagues. (Getty Images)

It’s easy to jump to the conclusion, based on his initial exposure to the highest level of baseball, that Anthony Ranaudo will struggle to be a big league starting pitcher.

On Tuesday, in the Red Sox‘ 4-0 shutout loss to the Pirates (the 15th shutout loss for the Red Sox this year, the most times the Sox have been blanked since they were shut out 16 times in 1990), he suffered his third loss in as many starts, giving up three runs on a pair of homers (a two-run blast by Russell Martin and a solo shot by Starling Marte) in 5 2/3 innings. Ranaudo has now permitted 10 homers in 32 1/3 innings in the big leagues, one more than he allowed in 138 innings in Triple-A this year, and he’s struck out just 13 while walking 15 in that time. He’s a flyball pitcher who hasn’t been able to get swings and misses at the big league level.

That’s all fair, but there are a few takeaways from which Ranaudo and the Sox can derive encouragement. First, he’s showing strong mound poise and a consistent ability to compete at the big league level. He’s gotten into the sixth inning in five of his six starts, and he’s permitted three or fewer runs in four of those outings. Secondly, he’s competing even at a time when he’s working to push through a physical wall of a career-high in innings. He’s now up to 170 1/3 innings this year, up from his previous career high of 140 frames in 2013 — a 21.7 percent increase that is unsurprisingly accompanied by some diminution in stuff. Third, he’s showing at least hints of adapting, as suggested by the fact that he got seven groundball outs on Tuesday, showing at times action that suggested the incorporation of a two-seam fastball (or at least something that acted like it) to get his fastball off the barrel of opposing hitters.

Ranaudo’s stuff right now is down from where it was in much of 2013, and even in much of 2014. If, after a healthy offseason, he comes back with a velocity bump and sharper action on his secondary pitches to give him at least some potential for swings and misses, if the intelligent 25-year-old continues to show the ability to adapt his arsenal (he made a number of tweaks this year in Triple-A that demonstrated self-awareness about who he is as a pitcher) to get more regular groundball contact, he has a chance to be an important depth option for the Sox. He’ll likely be in Triple-A to open next year, but there are traits that he’s shown that suggest the potential to be a big league starter if his progress in 2014 represents part of a progression rather than an end point.

OTHER REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD HAVE CARED ABOUT TUESDAY’S GAME

– Left-hander Drake Britton continued to offer evidence that it’s premature to dismiss the potential for him to win a bullpen job for 2015, retiring the lone batter he faced. Opponents are now 1-for-13 against him in the big leagues this year.

– Xander Bogaerts went 2-for-4, extending his hitting streak to nine games during which he’s hitting .405/.425/.676.

– Though Will Middelbrooks struck out twice, he also had a double to right-center on a 1-2 pitch in the ninth inning against Pirates closer Mark Melancon.

– Though Koji Uehara gave up a leadoff double, the 20th extra-base hit he’s allowed this year, he rebounded by striking out the next three hitters, the first time he’s punched out three hitters since July 27.

Blog Author: 
Alex Speier

PITTSBURGH — Rusney Castillo is about to become a bit less mysterious.

Rusney Castillo will make his big league debut on Wednesday. (Getty Images)

Rusney Castillo will make his big league debut on Wednesday. (Getty Images)

PITTSBURGH — Rusney Castillo is about to become a bit less mysterious.

Castillo will lead off and play center field for Pawtucket in the Triple-A championship game on Tuesday night in Charlotte, NC. Once that contest is concluded, he’ll fly to Pittsburgh to join the Red Sox, with a Wednesday night start in center field in the offing. The initial, brief read on his performance through 10 minor league playoff games — two in the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League, four in Double-A Portland and four more with Triple-A Pawtucket — has been favorable, particularly when taking into account that it had been roughly a year and a half since he’d last played baseball in a competitive environment.

He’s hitting .297 with a .381 OBP, .405 slugging mark, five walks, seven strikeouts and four doubles to this point. The Sox have seen some evidence of the athleticism and energy that scouts have seen for years.

He’€™s an electric player and there’€™s a lot of skills here, it’€™s explosive, it’€™s quick twitch. Looking forward to seeing him in this environment,” said manager John Farrell, who said that, at the plate, “he’€™s handled himself well, and given the time off since he last played competitively, his at-bats have been productive, they’€™ve been consistent.” The defense has also been at least solid according to the reports of Triple-A manager Kevin Boles, with his reads and routes being described as average but with his closing speed permitting his range to exceed such descriptions.

While the early signs have been promising, Farrell suggested that it will be important to recognize that Castillo remains in spring training mode. While he is expected to play regularly, he will play less than everyday (in part due to the gradual buildup of his workload, in part because the Sox still have to work in other outfielders). Meanwhile, a team source said that Castillo is not expected to serve as the leadoff hitter — at least in the immediate term — while getting acclimated to the big leagues.

“I think it’€™s important for us to keep in mind and keep in perspective that it’€™s been a year and a half. He’€™s just kind of getting back into game shape,” said Farrell. “I think the goal going in for the games that he’€™s on the field is for him to just experience the environment. We’€™ve got a little bit of a read on him right now on where his strengths and limitations might be but that’€™s just an initial view. We’€™re still in the getting familiar stage of all this. I think any judgment on my part is reserved until we get to see him more.”

OTHER RED SOX NOTES

David Ortiz, who left Sunday’s game due to a family emergency, has rejoined the Sox. However, in the absence of a designated hitter during the series in Pittsburgh, Ortiz will be available off the bench on both Tuesday and Wednesday. He’s scheduled to start at first base on Thursday.

– Brock Holt, sidelined by symptoms consistent with a concussion, will be re-examined by Dr. Michael Collins in Pittsburgh on Thursday to determine when or whether he might be able to return to the field.

He has a re-examination and a battery of tests scheduled for Thursday with Dr. Collins. I think that will be a pivotal day … in the sense of where he’€™s at and the projection for him going forward,” said Farrell. “Until we get that information, I have no real date marked for when he can be on the field. He’€™ll be on the field when he’€™s ready but Thursday is going to tell us a lot.”

– The Sox are considering tweaking their rotation to give knuckleballer Steven Wright a start before the end of the season. The team plans to continue to use Matt Barnes out of the bullpen going forward.

– Catcher Blake Swihart landed on the seven-day disabled list for Triple-A Pawtucket prior to Game 5 of the International League Governor’s Cup Finals due to a bruised hand, in part so the Sox could add a backup catcher to the roster for the game. Though Swihart is now fine, his placement on the DL prevented him from playing in Tuesday’s Triple-A championship game against Omaha.

– PawSox manager Kevin Boles will join the Sox going forward, as will player development programs coordinator Laz Gutierrez, who will continue to serve as Castillo’s interpreter, a role he has played since the outfield reported to Fort Myers.

Blog Author: 
Rob Bradford and Alex Speier