Whenever there is a high-profile international player available, as 26-year-old Cuban Rusney Castillo is on the verge of being, the Los Angeles Dodgers are almost certain to be involved in the negotiations.
According to Ben Badler of Baseball America, Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti was in attendance at a private workout held by Castillo in the Dominican Republic.
Few teams have been as active in the international market, particularly with Cuban defectors, the last two years as the Dodgers. Yasiel Puig and Alexander Guerrero have signed deals worth a combined $74 million from Los Angeles.
Castillo is still working to establish residency and hasn't been declared a free agent yet, but it’s just a matter of time before that happens. So what are teams going to be bidding on when the Cuban star does get to negotiate a contract?
The Body Profile
Unlike recent high-profile Cuban signees Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu, Yoenis Cespedes and Jorge Soler, Rusney Castillo doesn't immediately jump out at you for his physical stature. Cespedes is listed at just 5'10", but is a truck at 210 pounds. Yasiel Puig is a thoroughbred at 6'3", 245 pounds. Soler is a specimen at 6'4", 215 pounds with room to fill out his frame.
Even Jose Abreu, who doesn't have a great body, looks the part of a throwback power hitter at 6'2", 258 pounds.
At 5'9", 185 pounds, Castillo is actually smaller than Alexander Guerrero (5'10", 197 pounds). The good news is Castillo's built well for someone with a diminutive frame. He is all muscle and carries every pound very well.
Teams aren't always quick to give out big money to a "smaller" player without in-game performance, but Castillo could be an exception to that rule given the exploding market for Cuban defectors in recent years.
Even more important than what Castillo looks like standing in a uniform is how he plays between the lines. Like most high-profile Cuban players, there are things to like and reasons to be skeptical about an MLB future.
Badler's report notes that Castillo has spent time playing center field, second base and third base in Cuba. Having versatility is going to help his market value, though he will have to overcome the stigma of an uninspiring .250/.352/.342 line in his final season at Serie Nacional.
Badler wrote a separate piece in December detailing Castillo's strengths and weaknesses on the field. Given his ability to play center field in Cuba, it should come as no surprise that Castillo's best tool is speed.
...he’s an above-average runner and one of the better base stealers in Cuba. More of a doubles hitter than a big home run threat, Castillo puts a charge into the ball with a line-drive righthanded swing, though he can get long to the ball at times and some scouts think he’s prone to chasing pitches off the plate.
There is very little video of Castillo online, so it's hard for me to give a definitive scouting report.
What I can say, based on Badler's report and what video I have seen, is Castillo will be much farther away than players like Cespedes or Puig when he signs a deal. He's not going to jump immediately into the big leagues, or at least he shouldn't.
Where will Rusney Castillo start when he signs with an MLB team?
Castillo doesn't have elite bat speed, like Cespedes or Puig, but he has good hands, as well as excellent hand-eye coordination, and gets the barrel into the zone quick enough. He's going to have problems catching velocity, which is why some time in the minors would serve him well to adjust against better fastballs.
However, at 26, teams won’t want to wait around for Castillo to get ready. There isn't much time left in his prime years, which makes him even more of a risk, so ideally he’d be able to step into the big leagues right away.
Being a player who relies on speed, Castillo will have to stick in the big leagues early because legs are often the first thing to slow down as you get older.
He's never shown much patience or plate discipline in Cuba, as evidenced by 32 walks in 420 plate appearances in the 2011-12 season. That’s not an unusual trait for players coming from Cuba. They are trying to hit their way on base, so being an on-base percentage guy isn't likely going to be Castillo's strong suit.
On the positive side, Castillo's ability to play center field doesn't put all the pressure on his bat. I haven't seen him live, so it's impossible to say how much work he needs reading the ball off the bat or getting jumps and routes to the ball.
If he's polished with the glove, Castillo can bypass some steps up the minor league ladder and still be a valuable asset in the big leagues as a second-division (non-playoff team) regular or extra outfielder.
The Final Word
Considering how frivolous the Dodgers have been with international spending in recent years, as well as the success of Yasiel Puig in 2013, you can understand why the team would be hot on the trail of another toolsy Cuban outfielder.
Castillo still has a long way to go before he's allowed to negotiate with teams, and it will be even longer before he's playing in a system, so he must prove himself with the bat to get the kind of money we have seen thrown around at recent Cuban defectors.
Of course, if the Dodgers are in the mix, even though they don't really have a spot for him in the outfield, who knows how much money they might offer.
Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.
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