Occasionally you come across a ball player who stands out beyond anyone else on the field. Not everything he does is perfect, but is saved by the defensive instinct and raw talent to simply get his hands on the ball. From the seats, anyone can see he is at home in the dirt, between second and third, and ready for anything. At the plate, he is confident, but still young with a lot to learn. His bat can break shifts with base hits, while his feet break ground stealing coveted bases. Growing up in a world of pitch framing and double plays, the words of his father still ring true to him, “The bad games are going to come, never put your head down. Keep doing your thing. Keep hustling.” And that’s exactly what Willi Castro does when he steps onto the field.
At the age of 16, the Cleveland Indians signed Castro though a non-draft free agency out of the Dominican Republic in 2013. To sweeten the deal they also added on a signing bonus of $825,000, the second highest bonus given by the Indians in that free agent pool. Since then, now 18, he has played shortstop and second base with the Cleveland Indians Arizona League team, until the season opened up for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers this summer. The promotion to the single-A affiliate from Arizona was slightly unexpected, though he seems to be settling in nicely with .270/.298/.337 in 42 games.
The 6’1, 165 lb shortstop has a natural ability as a defender, which over time could keep getting better as he straddles the borderline between raw talent and professional skill. Making backwards, over-the-head catches to end innings can be both a sample of more to come or a lucky break, though still showing off his natural instinct for the game. Being so young still and having so much room left to grow physically and mentally as a player he could go either way. I am optimistic that he will fall into a groove riding out the rest of the season and come back stronger than ever in 2016.
Defense aside, his offense continues to get better as he settles into his new team. He has an impressive amount of pop, while his patience at the plate could get better the more at bats he gets. Extra bases are few; though once he makes contact and ends up at first all pitchers should wish they had eyes in the back of their heads. He knows how to read a pitcher, both in the batter’s box and getting a jump off first, and credits that skill for his good amount of stolen bases (14) so far this season. With that keen eye, Castro is very quick to get into scoring position one way or another, which is an asset not just to him but also to his whole team.
Watching him the last few days, I got the impression that he looks at baseball in a way many people cannot seem to understand at his age. He made few defensive errors but recovered quickly from them offensively, doing his job as a lead off and getting on base early. He’s anything but a head case and I can’t say it enough how refreshing that is to see. The confidence shown at his position reflects in his bat and reflects a balance between the two that he has begun to master the more he plays.
This young stud loves what he does because he was born to play. He thrives on growing up with the influence of his father, and the adornment from the fans that come to watch him play.
There is a long way to go but with the tools he already has, they will help him greatly in standing out from everyone else and pushing him further towards the higher levels. As he matures and learns more about himself as a professional baseball player there will be some changes in the way he plays the game, only to enhance it. Yes, Castro will have struggles and off days but he has a great head on his shoulders and the confidence of an All Star at the age of 18 and with that foundation, he can do amazing things.