Rusney Castillo might need someone to mail him a cheesesteak.
While it’s still possible Castillo could open the season with the Boston Red Sox in Philadelphia on April 6, it’s looking increasingly likely that the Cuban outfielder will begin his first full campaign in the minors.
And you know what? It wouldn’t be the worst thing ever.
It’s rare you see a $72.5 million player start the season in the minors. But it’s also rare a team finds itself with an outfield situation comparable to the Red Sox’s. And it’s even rarer to have a $72.5 million player with very little major league experience and minor league options available.
Boston’s crowded outfield has been a huge talking point in spring training, as there are as many as seven players, including Castillo, vying for (probably) five spots. Red Sox manager John Farrell and general manager Ben Cherington, among others, have deflected any talk of the “logjam” to this point, suggesting the organization doesn’t need to make any rash decisions today, tomorrow or the next day.
But there will come a point soon when Boston must decide who to keep in tow for its trip to Philly and who to leave behind. Optioning Castillo to Triple-A Pawtucket right now represents the easiest and most sensible solution, even if it’s a temporary trip through Rhode Island for the 27-year-old.
Castillo, who suffered an oblique injury in the Red Sox’s March 3 exhibition game against Boston College, might be able to garner enough at-bats between now and Opening Day to be deemed ready for the start of the major league season. To be honest, though, he’s clearly behind the eight ball because of his ailment. And the fact he’s still a relatively unknown quantity only exacerbates any concerns about whether he’ll be able to ramp up in time to break camp with the big league club.
Hanley Ramirez has been penciled in as the Red Sox’s starting left fielder since the day he signed a four-year, $88 million contract in November. Mookie Betts’ progress this spring has left no doubt he’s ready to be Boston’s starting center fielder and leadoff hitter to open 2015. Shane Victorino battled general soreness this spring and is coming off an injury plagued 2014, but the Red Sox appear committed to him in right field.
That means Castillo, Daniel Nava, Allen Craig and, to a lesser extent, Jackie Bradley Jr. are battling for two outfield bench spots. Bradley almost certainly will begin the season with Pawtucket, and while Castillo showed in 10 major league games last season he has the potential to be a dynamic player, his minor league options give the Red Sox more flexibility than they have with either Nava or Craig.
So, in short, sending Castillo to the minors is beneficial for two reasons.
1. It gives Castillo extra at-bats before arriving in The Show, and in turn gives the Red Sox the extended look they haven’t been afforded during the outfielder’s injury plagued spring.
2. It gives the Red Sox time to see what they have across the rest of the outfield. After all, Betts could struggle, Craig could be the same player who had an awful 2014, Victorino could get hurt again or Nava could bring very little to the table and thus become expendable.
As far as pure talent is concerned, Castillo deserves a spot on the Red Sox’s major league roster immediately. One even could argue he deserves to start over Victorino. But unless the Red Sox shake up their roster over the next two-plus weeks and Castillo sets the Grapefruit League ablaze, it’s time to start thinking realistically about the totality of the situation.
Expect Castillo to make an impact with Boston this season. Just don’t be surprised if his breakout is delayed because of all of the other factors involved.
Thumbnail photo via Joy R. Absalon/USA TODAY Sports Images