Name: Wilkin Castillo
Born: Bani, Dominican Republic
Weight: 170 lbs
History: Wilkin Castillo was signed out of the Dominican Republic primarily for his ability to control the running game. Shortly after turning 20 years old, Castillo proved that his bat had some life in it as well. He cranked out 23 extra base hits in 263 at bats in his American debut and even managed a couple of hits against Triple-A pitchers.
His offense took off the following season before hitting a snag in 2006, when tough southpaws gave him fits. Then last year, he began to swing well from both sides of the plate. Finishing May with a .316 batting average and hitting .359 in June, Castillo was one of the BayBears' most valuable players, as he played second, third, and shortstop on days in which he did not catch.
Statistics Courtesy of The Baseball Cube
The season wore him down, however, as Castillo combined to hit .209 with no homers and just two RBI in 67 Fall and Winter League at bats. That poor showing has done little to diminish his status as both one of the best catcher prospects in the organization and one of the Diamondbacks' prospects closest to major league-ready.
Castillo continued his versatile ways with Tucson this year, playing 51 games behind the dish, 41 at the hot corner, seven in left field, six at shortstop, and four at second base.
"They kind of want him to be a super-utility player more than just a third baseman," Sidewinders manager Bill Plummer said a few weeks before the trade.
"Castillo has always been one of the better athletes in our system," farm director A.J. Hinch confirmed at the time. "Very few players have the ability to play multiple positions in the middle of the field, so we want to see if he is one of them."
While Castillo has rarely disappointed with the glove, his offensive production has faded this season. The lack of a productive bat to go along with his defensive value made him expendable in the eyes of the organization.
Batting and Power: Castillo does a phenomenal job of putting the bat on the ball, even on bad pitches, using a short, level swing. He batted .330 when leading off an inning last season, but profiles even better as a number two hitter, where he can use the bunt and the hit-and-run to get someone with a high on-base percentage around the bases.
The two biggest weaknesses in Castillo's game are a lack of power and an inability to draw a walk. If Castillo ever develops something more than doubles power, it won't occur until he's in his early thirties like a Darrin Fletcher or an A.J. Pierzynski. The lack of walks are an area that Castillo needs to improve on if he ever wants to start at the major league level.
"He still sometimes gets in trouble when he's swinging at balls out of the zone, but he's been more patient," Plummer said. "He's put the ball in play harder and more consistently than he did in the first half, from both sides of the plate."
Slow developmental time is one of the drawbacks to being a switch-hitting catcher. Such players need days off to remain fresh, but the lack of repetitions can be devastating to a young player that needs to hone his swing from both sides of the plate. Castillo is now 24 and in his sixth minor league season. While his swing had been improving, it had been going too slowly for the D-backs' front office.
"I'm seeing the ball better and feeling better at the plate," insisted Castillo through teammate/translator Jesus Merchan.
Base Running and Speed: Castillo runs extremely well for a catcher, but a cursory glance at his caught stealing totals highlights the fact that he doesn't get good jumps off pitchers. He isn't too aggressive on the bases or overly cautious, either. Manager Bill Plummer kept him from running too much this year. That bodes well for his future; his slight frame already calls his durability into question, and lots of stolen base attempts only figures to wear him down further.
Defense: Farm director A.J. Hinch told us last summer that Castillo had the best catcher's arm in the Diamondbacks organization, but he may have since been passed by 17th-round draft choice Ryan Babineau. Wilkin does have a strong arm, but his immaculate footwork and quick release are the primary reasons that he gets the ball to second as quickly as he does.
His other skills as a backstop are solid to above average. Castillo uses good fundamentals when blocking pitches in the dirt, and when one does get away from him, he pounces on it with alacrity. This quickness also helps him field bunts. Castillo's ability to work with pitchers and call a good game gives the organization confidence to use him in the majors this year.
The really unique aspect to Castillo's defense is his versatility. He has played every position on the diamond except pitcher. He's made plenty of errors at these positions, but it's due to inexperience, not lack of athleticism.
"He can play 'em all," raved minor league field manager Jack Howell earlier this season. "He definitely doesn't hurt you, and he can surprise you. He's a very athletic kid; very mobile and very athletic."
While Castillo isn't ever likely to play a major league game at shortstop, the fact that he could do so in an emergency adds to his value as the 13th position player on a major league roster.
Major League Clone: Johnny Estrada
Prediction: Castillo compares to Estrada as a switch-hitting catcher, but it's difficult to find a good example of an active major leaguer who's athletic enough and talented enough to play both catcher and the middle infield. His unique versatility and rifle arm will get him to the big leagues, but he won't ever provide enough offense to warrant a starting job.
ETA: Castillo has been assigned to the Reds' Triple-A squad, but he will make his major league debut when rosters expand in September. Depending upon his audition and the composition of the Cincinnati Reds' re-tooled roster, Castillo may get a chance to help the big league club in '09, although their current super-sub, Ryan Freel, is still under contract for that season. Manager Dusty Baker loves versatility in his position players, so it's not out of the question that Castillo gets worked onto the roster regardless.
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