Emerging Cardinals Prospect: Yunier Castillo

The 19-year-old was promoted to Johnson City late in the season and seems poised to take off from there in 2009 and beyond. Cardinals VP Jeff Luhnow and coach Mike Shildt offer their views of the talented shortstop from the Dominican Republic.

The 2008 St. Louis Cardinals fall instructional league roster included two exciting young Latin American players, shortstop Yunier Castillo and outfielder Ryde Rodriguez. Both were promoted to Johnson City of the Appalachian League late in the 2008 regular season after excelling in the Gulf Coast League all summer long.

In the second installment of a two-part series, we will look at Castillo. Here is the link to part one, focused on Rodriguez.

Just 19 years of age, Castillo played in 40 games for the GCL Cardinals this season, with a .256/.285/.318 line before going 3-for-23 (.130) in the Appy League to close out the year. What one cannot see on the stat sheet is how he fields his position and plays the game.

The switch-hitting native of the Dominican Republic is in his first season in the Cardinals system, but it hasn't taken long to open eyes to his vast potential.

Cardinals Vice President of Amateur Scouting and Player Development Jeff Luhnow is pleasantly surprised his organization was able to get Castillo, signed after being seen at a Miami-area baseball academy, but even Luhnow required convincing early on.

"I don't know how this guy didn't get signed by another club before we ran across him – I really don't. I credit (Area Scout) Charlie Gonzalez for finding this guy and pushing me.

"Charlie Gonzalez called me up and said, ‘I've got a kid that I want to sign.' I said, ‘Charlie, unless he is Derek Jeter, I can't sign him because we are full.' He said, ‘Derek Jeter, that's a high bar!' So, he forgot about it.

"About two weeks later, he called me back and said, ‘Jeff, there is a guy you should really sign. He's not Derek Jeter, but you need to come and see this kid.' So he brought Castillo to our complex and he played and I saw him and everybody loved him and we ended up signing him," Luhnow recalled.

Having coached Castillo this spring and early summer and again with Johnson City at the end of the season, Mike Shildt offers an assessment of Castillo from a coaching perspective.

"He's got great actions, shortstop-type actions. He's got a great glove. He's like a young colt, just trying to break in a little bit. He's aggressive, which you like. He's got good range so he can get to a lot of balls," Shildt observed.

Given his relative youth, it isn't surprising that Castillo remains a work in progress. "He's got to learn about game management from shortstop, making decisions - when to speed up, when to slow down, when to get an out, when not to try to force something. Now, he just wants to force things, but he got better almost every day. I took him out for extra work a lot," Shildt said.

Like many others who have watched Castillo play, Shildt is looking forward to seeing more.

"Ultimately, he is a good talent. He competes with the bat. He doesn't contribute as much as you'd like but he can run. He is only going to get better," the coach said in anticipation.

Like any player, especially one of his relative youthfulness, Castillo is a work in progress.

"He's the perfect candidate for instructs. He wants to do well. He's just young and his inexperience shows. His aggressiveness at times makes up for it and other times, it is a detriment," Shildt explained.

The coach and coordinator of the instructional league camp wanted to make it clear that he remains a big supporter of Castillo.

"The ability is there and the attitude is there. It's just a matter of him getting more time to play and instruction. He's got ability and we like that," Shildt said.

Count Luhnow among those impressed.

"A terrific, terrific season he had. He looks so natural out there. Our Gulf Coast League staff said that without a doubt, he was the top prospect on that team. He is the most bonafide big-leaguer on that team. Now, he's eight steps away, but they love what they saw of him. The more you see him, the more he grows on you.

"We sent him up to Joe Almaraz (Johnson City manager) and at first, he put him in some games, but he didn't call me. After about a week or two, he called and says, ‘Jeff, Yunier is pretty good.'".

‘Pretty good' is certainly worth watching in 2009 and beyond.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net

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