Rusney Castillo is a centerfielder who defected from Cuba last December. He was suspended from international travel and National Series play in August, meaning that this was at least his second attempt at defection. Castillo is 5’9″, 185 pounds, and his game is more speed than power. The Dodgers and Orioles seem to be interested, though he has yet to be cleared to sign.
Castillo is a very strange case. His career arc sounds very straightforward:
When Yoenis Cespedes was in Cuba, Cespedes was the star center fielder on the Cuban national team, with Leonys Martin the up-and-comer. With Cespedes and Martin gone, Castillo stepped in as Cuba’s national team center fielder at the World Cup in October 2011 in Panama.
Long-suffering, overshadowed player finally gets his chance on the big stage? Well… no.
Rusney Castillo Peraza didn’t play in la Serie Nacional until after his 21st birthday, which is downright ancient by National Series standards. (Cuban teams do not play games with arbitration clocks.) As such, Rusney only played five seasons for Ciego de Avila, barely qualifying him as a free agent under the rules that commence this July, despite the fact that he turns 27 in June.
During his first two seasons with the Tigres, Castillo backed up second baseman Mario Vega. Vega was an OK hitter (94 OPS+ from 2008-2011), but he also happened to be 12 years older than Castillo, so one would think that Rusney might have provided a defensive edge. In 2011, he made a permanent move to the outfield, becoming the regular right fielder for Ciego. He did play 19 games in center, but the regular job there belonged to Yoelvis Fiss*. Fiss does seem to be a great hitter (135 OPS+ from 2008-2011), but was 8 years older than Castillo. Again, one would think that Castillo might have provided a defensive upgrade, particularly since after the 2011 season, Castillo was named the center fielder for the National Team. A third year player with only 19 games of experience at the position was named the starter for the national team.
*For those curious, during Castillo’s tenure with Ciego, they had also had a first baseman named Yorelvis, and a pitcher named plain-old Elvis. Around the league, I see another Elvis, another Yoelvis, at least two guys named Noelvis, an Orelvis, and a Yuselvis. As far as I know, this has nothing do with the King, though I stopped googling after finding this.
So starting in 2012, he must have taken over the job from Yoelvis, right? Nope. During the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Castillo and Fiss split time in center, with Yoelvis handling the majority of the work up until the second phase of the 2013 season, when it became an even split.
I don’t know quite what to make of the fact that Castillo was never the everyday center fielder, but scouts who have seen Castillo in international play seem to be quite fond of him. Here’s Ben Badler:
His best tool is his speed, as 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. He’s an aggressive, high-energy player, though some teams see him as a fourth outfielder.
Rusney Castillo Stats
I’ve omitted postseason stats, but it’s worth noting that in 2011 and 2012 combined, Castillo posted 149 plate appearances-worth of a .342/.409/.631 line. Badler also notes that he has performed intermittently well in international play.
|Jose Dariel Abreu||11-13||24-26||1014||0.393||0.537||0.802||0.409||245||18.4||10.9||9.4||11.6|
Castillo’s offensive numbers are solid, though plate discipline could be an issue. The comps here don’t portray him favorably, but that’s a pretty good group of Cuban hitters. I avoided listing players who defected when considerably younger.