CORAL GABLES, Fla.—Cuban defector Rusney Castillo, 27, is a prime example of what makes scouting so difficult.
The free-agent outfielder worked out for two hours and 45 minutes—minus countless water breaks and wardrobe changes—in blistering heat at the University of Miami on Saturday.
Between scouts, reporters, handlers and others, there were well over 100 people at Mark Light Stadium, and all of them had their eyes trained on the 5-foot-9, 205-pound Castillo.
“Always in the beginning, you feel some pressure,” Castillo said when asked about performing in front of so many scouts. “But then you adjust and relax.”
Cuban players are now trending up in the major leagues after the recent success of stars such as power hitters Yasiel Puig (Dodgers) and Yoenis Cespedes (A’s) and power pitcher Aroldis Chapman (Reds), who were three of the five Cubans in the 2014 All-Star Game.
No scout wants to miss the next great thing, which is why there were talent evaluators from 28 of the 30 MLB teams at Saturday’s event, according to one of Castillo’s agents (he’s represented by Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Sports). That agent, though, declined to say which organizations did not attend.
Just what those scouts really thought about Castillo—and which talent evaluators turn out to be correct—is the tricky part.
It’s very difficult to gauge an athlete off a workout as opposed to a live game against quality opposition. And while Castillo did take live batting practice, he did so against a pitcher who recently graduated from a Division II college and went undrafted.
Scouts, as usual, spoke off the record on Saturday, leaving reporters to try to ascertain what their motives might be for certain comments.
Could a negative quote be part of an attempt to knock down Castillo’s asking price? It’s possible. Could a positive quote be an attempt to curry favor with Castillo’s agents? It’s possible.
In general, though, Castillo looked fast. But how fast is open to interpretation, too, and we’ll have more on that later.
Castillo took fly balls in right and center, although scouts indicated his arm plays more to center or even left. (Castillo said his preferred position is center.) He also took ground balls at shortstop, although no one really expects him to play there.
Perhaps the most pleasantly surprising aspect of Castillo’s game was the power he showed and the ability to hit to the opposite field with authority.
Again, though, he wasn’t facing David Price.
With all that as a prelude, here are more details on what was, ultimately, Castillo’s attempt to earn a big-money MLB contract:
Castillo ran the 60-yard dash somewhere between 6.4 seconds and 6.5, depending on which scout you asked. Castillo gave a slight “deke” before he started his sprint, which threw off some stop-watches.
Either way, though, Castillo is a plus runner by consensus of various scouts.
On a 20-80 scale, one scout gave Castillo the highest possible grade, which seemed a bit overstated. On the other end of the spectrum, another scout had Castillo a 60 runner who happened to run a 70 time on this day.
Let’s meet in the middle and say Castillo is a 70 runner, but another scout pointed out that “running in a straight line is not the same thing as running the bases. I would have liked to have seen him run out of the batter’s box or go from first to third.”
It’s a good point, and it again shows that there’s only so much you can learn from a workout as opposed to watching him for several games in a season. These scouts, though, did not have that latter luxury.
Castillo started out in right field, fielding base hits and firing to third base. He then took base hits and threw home. All his throws were on a line and hit the mark on the fly or on one hop.
However, by the time he charged those base hits, he was in medium to shallow right field.
“He has a 50 arm,” said one scout. “It’s an average big league arm. He could be used in all three outfield spots in a pinch, but his arm plays more like a left fielder.”
Added another scout after the entire workout was over: “His arm is his weakest tool.”
This might be the toughest area to judge Castillo if all you have to go on is this workout. Most every ball was hit right at him, and the only one that would have presented a challenge—a ball hit to left-center—Castillo did not chase after his handlers told him to stay put, probably not wanting him to overexert himself.
Still, this did not please one scout. “If I just came from Cuba and was trying to get to the big leagues, I would have chased that ball down and put it in my back pocket,” the scout said.
Next, Castillo took to the batting cages to loosen up his swing. Taking under-hand tosses from one of his handlers, Castillo showed a natural lift to his hacks, upper-cutting balls with force.
After a few minutes in the cage, Castillo took three rounds of batting practice on the field. This is where he made his biggest impression.
“After his second round of batting practice, I would have stopped right there because I didn’t think he could improve on that,” one scout said. “But he did.”
Even the scout who was critical of him for not going for that batted ball in the left-center gap was impressed with his hitting.
“I like him,” the scout said. “He’s a major league player.”
After batting practice, Castillo hit live against 6-foot-3 righthander Nate Carter, 22, who was 4-1, 1.54 with eight saves for Division II Florida Southern this past season.
Carter, who said he throws between 89 and 94 mph, said he used his fastball and curve against Castillo.
“I tried to throw strikes to give him a chance to show what he could do,” Carter said. “But I wanted to throw quality strikes.”
Carter was asked how well he thought Castillo did with his pitches. “He’s a great hitter,” Carter said. “I threw some fastballs at the knees on the outside corner, and he hit them over the fence or close to it.”
Castillo took 16 cuts, missing two and fouling off eight. Of the six he hit fair, only one was a likely out, a couple of shots were off the wall and a couple went over the fence.
Castillo took 20 ground balls at shortstop and didn’t miss any, although he did skip one throw past the first baseman for what would have been an error.
He looked hesitant at the start but then seemed to get more comfortable. He got rid of the ball quickly when tossing to second to start a double play. Castillo ended his workout by charging a slow roller and tossing across his body to first base.
“What more do you want?” one of his handlers yelled at no one in particular, his voice equal parts defiance and celebratory.
It was a nice way to end the workout, but it likely didn’t mean much. Castillo is an outfielder, not an infielder, although back in the 2009-10 season in Cuba he played 26 games at second base and seven at third before moving to the outfield full-time. He can run—no one argues that—and his value will ultimately be determined by what scouts think of his bat.
HANDLE WITH CARE
A comical aspect of the workout was the way the “handlers” treated Castillo, toweling him off after every five swings, offering him water every few seconds and even using towels to fan him.
At one point, one of his handlers actually tied his shoes for him.
Castillo seemed to think of all of this was essential, changing shirts for every exercise and switching shoes, too. Apparently, his fielding shoes are not his hitting shoes.
Ultimately, though, it was a positive workout for the heavily muscled Castillo, even if some questions still remain.