ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.—Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia left Saturday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays in the bottom of the second inning after taking a blow to the left side of the head on a tag play at second base.

With the bases loaded and no out in the second, Rays catcher Ryan Hanigan hit a sacrifice fly ball to deep center field, where it was caught by outfielder Mookie Betts. Rays second baseman Logan Forsythe, who was on first base, tagged up and went into second base with a head-first slide.

Pedroia, who had his back to the runner, took the throw and swept counter-clockwise to make the tag. Forsythe reached for the bag with his left hand, but his right forearm came up and struck Pedroia in the head.

The Sox second baseman lay face-first on the ground while Sox manager John Farrell and trainer Brad Pearson ran out from the Sox dugout. Eventually, he was helped to his feet and assisted off the field by Pearson.

Pedroia has started 131 of Boston’s 134 games this season. He has left early due to an injury only once this season, when he fouled a ball off his foot and left in the ninth inning of a game May 29 against the Rays in Fenway Park.

Sox setting a road map for Rusney

August, 30, 2014
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo may soon be embarking on a whirlwind tour of the Red Sox minor-league system.

Castillo is scheduled to make his pro debut Sunday afternoon in Fort Myers in a Gulf Coast League playoff game between the GCL Red Sox and GCL Yankees. He is scheduled to play three innings.

That much is certain. Beyond that, it depends.

If the GCL Sox, who on Saturday won the opener of the best-of-three series, 6-2, in Tampa, lose on Sunday, then Castillo will accompany them to Tampa for Monday's deciding game at the Yankees' minor-league complex.

If they win, Castillo could join short-season Lowell in Connecticut for their season finale on Monday, then head to either Double-A Portland or Triple-A Pawtucket for their playoffs.

Portland opens their best-of-five playoff series Wednesday in Binghamton, N.Y., with two games there. The series switches to Portland for games on Friday and, if necessary, Saturday and Sunday.

Triple-A Pawtucket has not yet clinched a playoff spot, but would also be looking at a Wednesday opener if they do.

"There's at-bats to be had here in the coming days," Boston manager John Farrell said.

Sox to go to six-man rotation

August, 30, 2014
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- With a number of their young pitchers closing in on innings thresholds, Red Sox manager John Farrell said the club intends to go to a six-man rotation after rosters expand on Monday.

Rookie right-hander Anthony Ranaudo, now 3-0 with the Sox after winning Friday night, was optioned to Class A Greenville to make room for shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who came off the seven-day concussion disabled list. But that move is temporary, with Ranaudo slated to return to face the Yankees on either Wednesday or Thursday in New York.

Brandon Workman, who pitched very well Friday night in Pawtucket’s 2-1 win over Syracuse (6 2/3 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 6 K’s, 2 B’s), is a strong candidate to start one of those games as well.

The other four starters are Clay Buchholz (pitching Sunday), Joe Kelly, Allen Webster (pitching Saturday) and Rubby De La Rosa (pitching Monday). Kelly is scheduled to face the Yankees in the series opener Tuesday night.

Ranaudo (156 innings), Webster (153) and De La Rosa (142 2/3) have all surpassed their career-high workloads, while Workman has dealt with some shoulder fatigue.

"We're getting to the point over the coming weeks with Rubby and Allen, there's going to be an innings threshold we come up against," Farrell said. "We'll figure out a way to keep that in mind."

Farrell said he'd like to keep Buchholz and Kelly on as normal a workload as possible. The Sox do not have an off-day until Sept. 15.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- With two games left in August, Xander Bogaerts returned to the Red Sox lineup Saturday night against the Tampa Bay Rays with the second-lowest average by any major leaguer in a month this season (minimum 50 plate appearances).

Bogaerts hasn't played since being struck in the batting helmet by a pitch from Seattle's Felix Hernandez eight days ago, which put him on the seven-day concussion disabled list. So far in August, Bogaerts is batting .106 (7 for 66), with 5 singles and 2 doubles.

The only major leaguer with a lower batting average this month, or any month, is Texas left-fielder Jim Adduci, a 29-year-old journeyman batting .077 (4 for 52) in August.

Only two Red Sox rookies in the last 100 years have had a lower batting average in August: Glenn Hoffman batted .104 in 1981 and George Cochran batted .085 in 1918. Cochran's average is the lowest by a Sox player in any month.

Four Sox players entered play Saturday with batting averages below the fabled Mendoza line (.200) for the month: Christian Vazquez (.197), Will Middlebrooks (.195), Mike Napoli (.184) and Bogaerts.

Overall, the Sox rank 27th in batting average for the month (.236), ahead of just Oakland (.228), Arizona (.223) and the New York Mets (.214). Despite the low batting average, the Sox are 12th in runs scored, with 108 in 26 games, just over four runs per game.

Bogaerts is batting .223 overall. Only three Red Sox rookies ever have had a lower batting average (minimum 400 plate appearances): Jackie Bradley Jr. .216 this season, catcher Mike Ryan .214 in 1966, and infielder Heinie Wagner .213 in 1907.

Only 21 big league rookies (400 or more plate appearances) since 1990 have batted .223 or less. The best player on that list is probably second baseman Brandon Phillips, who batted .208 in 2003 as a 22-year-old for Cleveland, spent the next two seasons in the minors, batted .300 in 2011, and is still playing with a career average of .271.

In season of firsts, slam No. 1 for Betts

August, 30, 2014
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- This is the kind of year it has been for 21-year-old Mookie Betts.

April: He opened the season in Double-A with Portland and hit a home run in his first at-bat of the season, one of four hits he collected in Reading on April 3. He led all Eastern League hitters with a .430 average for the month.

May: Still in Portland, Betts had 36 hits in 31 games, drove in 21 runs and stole a dozen bases without being caught.

June: He was promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket on June 4, worked an eight-pitch walk in his first at-bat and reached base safely in all 23 games he played for the PawSox before being promoted to the majors on June 28. Oh, he also learned how to play the outfield after being converted from second base.

He collected his first big league hit in Yankee Stadium the next night with his mother and sister watching from the stands, and no less than Derek Jeter rolled the ball into the Sox dugout so he’d have that precious memento.

July: He hit his first big league home run in Fenway Park on July 2, the ball caught on the Monster by a young man from Betts' native Tennessee who said he’d pitched against Betts in a Nashville summer league. The man happily gave the ball to Betts, who swapped him a couple of bats in return.

[+] EnlargeMookie Betts
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaThere doesn't seem to be a spot for him in the team's long-term plans, but Mookie Betts is nevertheless keeping himself in the conversation.
August: Friday night, in his 10th game in center field since he returned from Pawtucket and Jackie Bradley Jr. was sent down, Betts hit a 1-and-0 fastball from Rays right-hander Chris Archer into the left-field seats for a grand slam, giving the Sox an 8-0 lead in a game they would win 8-4.

Betts has played in 322 games in his professional career, 24 in the big leagues and has had 1,401 plate appearances, 90 with the Red Sox. This was his first slam, and at age 21, it made him the youngest Sox player to hit a bases-loaded home run since 20-year-old Tony Conigliaro hit one in 1965 off Bud Narum of the Washington Senators (Aug. 24, 1965).

Before he connected off Archer, Betts had knocked in three runs in 75 big league at-bats. With one swing, he exceeded that.

Where does the slam rank in this season of firsts?

“Probably No. 1," he said. “I can’t tell you the last time I hit a grand slam, going back to high school and everything else. I honestly don’t remember hitting one in high school, either. So just to hit one is pretty enjoyable."

The 5-foot-9 Betts is proving to be quite the athlete, though the memory proved to be a bit faulty.

Check the Facebook page of the Overton (Tenn.) Bobcats Baseball, and this entry, dated April 27, 2010.

“In Game 2, the Bobcats offense led the way, posting 12 runs in the first inning. Mookie Betts blasted a Grand Slam while Connor Moore hit for the cycle. Jordan Humphreys got the win in the 18-1 blowout."


So, there is precedent. And there also is building excitement for a prospect who is trying to force his way into the Sox plans in 2015. It won’t be easy given how crowded the Sox outfield is, especially with the addition of Cuban center-fielder Rusney Castillo, to whom the Sox just made a seven-year, $72.5 million commitment. And Dustin Pedroia occupies Betts' natural position.

But Betts, who is six days younger than Xander Bogaerts (Bogie turns 22 on Oct. 1, Betts on Oct. 7), is trying to force his way into the conversation.

“I’m still getting more comfortable each and every day," he said. “Every day I run out there, I feel like I can do things to feel comfortable going into next year.:

And don’t be surprised by the power generated by a man who is listed at 5-foot-9 and 156 pounds. Sometimes, manager John Farrell said, it’s not the size of the package but the bat speed generated by that package.

“I kind of knew I had the ability to do it," Betts said after hitting his third home run for the Sox this season and second this week. “I don’t think anybody else believed in me, but I believed in myself. It was just a matter of learning pitches to swing at, grooving my swing so when I get those pitches, to be able to do something with them."

In three days, the Sox move into September. Betts has left his mark on every other month this season. Don’t expect that to change now. He’s just getting started.

Castillo to make pro debut Sunday in Fort

August, 30, 2014
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo will be a man among boys when he makes his professional debut for Boston on Sunday afternoon in Fort Myers playing for the team’s rookie level Gulf Coast League affiliate.

Castillo, 27, will be playing on a team whose oldest players are 22 and has 22 teenagers listed on its roster. He will be playing in a playoff game against the Gulf Coast League Yankees, who will host the GCL Red Sox in the first game of the best-of-three finals Saturday in Tampa.

The GCL Red Sox won a one-game semifinal playoff against the GCL Cardinals, 7-4, on Friday in Jupiter.

Castillo obtained his P-1A work visa from U.S. Custom and Immigration Services on Wednesday, making him eligible to play in games. He has been working out at the team’s facility since Wednesday and will continue to do so on Saturday, Sox manager John Farrell said.

“We want him to go through another day of work tomorrow,’’ Farrell said. “That’ll set him up for his first activity Sunday.’’

Farrell said Castillo is expected to play three innings. The game will not be held in JetBlue Park but in one of the practice fields behind the facility. Field One has been mentioned as the most likely locale, with first pitch scheduled for noon.

Rapid Reaction: Red Sox 8, Rays 4

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Markus Lynn Betts, say hello to Anthony Richard Conigliaro.

Friday night, the 21-year-old Mookie became the youngest player since the 20-year-old Tony C. to hit a grand slam, 49 years after Conigliaro did so at Fenway Park on Aug. 24, 1965.

Conigliaro hit his slam in the first inning off Washington Senators right-hander Buster Narum in support of a rookie named Jim Lonborg.

Betts hit his slam in Tropicana Field off Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Chris Archer in support of a rookie named Anthony Ranaudo in Boston’s 8-3 win over the Rays.

The home run was the third of the season and second this week for Betts, who has started the last 10 games in center field since his recall from Pawtucket. Betts’ third callup this season coincided with the demotion of Jackie Bradley Jr., who played superb defense but hit little while he was here.

Ranaudo rolls: The 6-foot-7 Ranaudo is now unbeaten in 12 decisions, including three starts with the Red Sox, after he held the Rays to three runs on five hits and three walks in six innings. Ranaudo gave up a two-run home run to Brandon Guyer in the fifth. Guyer was a last-minute replacement for Desmond Jennings, who scratched with a sore left knee.

Imitation Devil Rays: Tampa Bay, which committed only 59 errors last season, second lowest total in big-league history, made two errors in the first two innings. The Rays have erred in six straight games.

No extracurriculars: This was the first time the Sox had faced Archer since he took exception to David Ortiz's bat flip after giving up a home run on July 27. He chimed in with former teammate David Price in saying Ortiz acted like he was “bigger than the game.’’ Ortiz tartly responded by saying Archer had been in the league “only two days” and had no business saying anything.

No one popped off Friday, although Ortiz just missed a home run in the third, lining a ball off the top of the right-field fence. Archer, however, lasted just four innings and was charged with seven earned runs. Betts’ home run was the first given up by Archer in 32 2/3 innings since the Ortiz start.

The Rays made no protest even when Daniel Nava stole second base with a five-run lead in the seventh. When Rays shortstop Yunel Escobar did the same here in late May, benches cleared and Jonny Gomes shoved him.

Xander Bogaerts to return Saturday

August, 29, 2014
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.-- A week after an 89 mph from Seattle's Felix Hernandez struck Xander Bogaerts in the batting helmet, he is expected to return to the Red Sox lineup on Saturday, manager John Farrell said.

Bogaerts had been placed on the seven-day concussion disabled list the day after he was hit by the pitch, but Farrell said in Toronto on Friday night he had passed all tests. Bogaerts took batting practice here Friday.

"He's been cleared by the doctors,'' Farrell said. "He'll go through a full work day with us on the field and we fully expect him at this point to play tomorrow.''

Bogaerts told reporters before Friday's game that he had not experienced any headaches since being hit.


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Coach recalls Castillo's emergence in 2011

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- This may be the first scouting report on a Cuban baseball player ever offered by a Massachusetts yankee in Queen Beatrix’s court.

Then again, it’s not every day that a guy who grew up in Methuen, pitched for St. Petersburg Junior College, transferred to Vanderbilt, was drafted by the Cardinals, continued his career in Australia, and moved to the Netherlands winds up with an honorary “Sir” in front of his name.

[+] EnlargeRusney Castillo
Rick WeberRusney Castillo has put on a lot of muscle since his coming out party in 2011.
The title was Brian Farley’s reward for coaching the Netherlands to the championship of the 2011 Baseball World Cup in Panama, one of two places he had a chance to lay eyes on Rusney Castillo, the Cuban outfielder signed by the Red Sox last week. Farley also saw Castillo play in Rotterdam early the same year, in the World Port tournament.

Castillo played right field for Cuba in the Rotterdam tournament, Farley said, but was in center field in Panama for what turned into his coming out party. Castillo hit .512 with eight extra-base hits, including two home runs, in 10 games. Farley’s Dutchmen beat Castillo’s Cubans in the championship game, but the young center fielder left a lasting impression.

“He was a very difficult out for us, that’s the first thing that comes to mind,’’ Farley said by phone Friday from his home in Zuid Scharwoude, a suburb about 25 miles north of Amsterdam.

“He led off in both tournaments, set the table extremely well, and had a disciplined strike zone; he was really focused on getting on base.’’

Farley was surprised to hear that Castillo is now listed at 205 pounds, despite his 5-foot-9 frame. That’s considerably bigger than when he saw him.

“He had surprising power for his size,’’ he said. “Obviously, he was very fast, but he also was strong, with short leverage and a short swing. He was very tough to beat with a fastball; he was very quick in the zone.’’

Farley has lived in the Netherlands since 1986. Drafted in the sixth round by the Cardinals in 1982, he blew out his arm twice and never advanced past Class A ball. “I was 26, trying to figure out what to do,’’ he said.

A legendary college coach named Jack Stallings suggested he continue playing in Australia and the European leagues. He played three winters in Australia for Adelaide, then was offered a spot with a third-division Dutch team in the small town of Heemstede.

“I was the one-eyed man in the land of the blind,’’ Farley said. “I started teaching them the game.’’

He soon discovered that he enjoyed coaching, and was added to the staff of the Dutch team coached by Pat Murphy, the former Arizona State coach, that shocked Cuba in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The following year he was offered a position with the national team by former Yankee Robert Eenhorn, and spent the better part of the next decade in a variety of positions, including two years as head coach of the Dutch team in 2011-12.

While there, he also was hired by Boston’s international scouting director, Craig Shipley, to serve as European scouting coordinator for the Sox, lining up bird dogs all over the continent to track talent. He held that position for five years.

[+] EnlargeBrian Farley
AP Photo/Arnulfo FrancoMethuen native Brian Farley coached the Netherlands to the Baseball World Cup title in 2011.
In the midst of that, he also met his future wife, Gonny, the starting second baseman on the Dutch softball team in the ’96 Olympics in Atlanta. They were married at home plate in a ballpark in the small town of Bussu, where Gonny was coaching softball and Farley was coaching the baseball team.

With over a decade in international ball, Farley has had a chance to see most of the Cuban stars now playing in the big leagues, including Red Sox outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and Dodger outfielder Yasiel Puig. Puig was the center fielder when Castillo played right in Rotterdam.

“I think Puig is a very, very unusual athlete with the tools he has,’’ Farley said. “He is Trout-esque, with power, speed, arm, a rare combination.

“With all of these guys, I’m talking a small sample size, but both Puig and Cespedes are bigger than Castillo. Castillo’s speed is comparable to Puig’s, and Castillo’s baseball instincts are much better than Puig’s. He’s a far more mature player on the field, a far more instinctive player.’’

Farley said Castillo clearly has the skills to play center field. “He’s a very capable outfielder, with an arm that I would call average for a major-league center fielder. Above-average speed, good jumps on balls. He was a hustler, an energy bunny.

“He forces errors with his speed, makes people make mistakes. He definitely changed the dynamic on that team, which had a lot of players who were older. I noticed that right away.’’

Farley, incidentally, is well acquainted with another player on the Sox. He had an 18-year-old shortstop named Xander Bogaerts. “He was so young, I think he was a little nervous,’’ Farley said. “He sat on the bench behind Didi Gregorius. A super kid, You could obviously see the tools, and he handled not playing like a consummate pro.’’

As for “Sir” Farley, understand that he didn’t get down on one knee while the queen touched his shoulder with a sword. “The minister of sport knighted the whole team,’’ he said. “That was a tremendous moment -- it had never been done before.’’

Sox, Rays in rare set between also-rans

August, 29, 2014
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- A few quick hits before the Red Sox open a four-game, Labor Day weekend series with the Tampa Bay Rays:

• This will be the first time since 2006 the teams play a late-season series in which neither club is in playoff contention. The Rays are four games under .500, 12 games behind the Orioles in the AL East, and 8 games behind in the wild-card race. The Sox (58-75) are 17 games below .500, 18 games behind the Orioles and 14 games out of wild-card spot.

Yes, in 2011 the Rays began September nine games out in the AL East and 7 1/2 games out in the wild-card race and made the tournament, but they were a much better team that season (74-61 entering September), they had just three teams ahead of them for the wild card, and it took a monumental collapse by the Sox (7-20) to get them there.

This season, the Rays have five teams ahead of them for the second wild-card spot.

• Pitching for the Rays Friday night is right-hander Chris Archer, the first time the Sox will be facing him since July 27, when Archer took exception to David Ortiz’s bat flip, saying it proved that now ex-teammate David Price was right when he said Ortiz thinks he’s "bigger than the game."

"I think it was a perfect example of what Price said," Archer said that day. "All of my interactions ... off the field have been good, but when it comes to him on the field, I don't know what makes him think that he can showboat the way he does and then nobody retaliate, nobody look at him a funny way or nobody pitch him inside."

Ortiz suggested afterward that Archer didn’t have the bona fides to call him out, saying the young Rays right-hander had "two days in the league."

Archer wasn’t interested in addressing the topic with Rays beat reporters in Baltimore on Thursday. He said he had "no expectations" of further issues.

• The Sox need to go 12-17 the rest of the way to finish ahead of the 69-93 record of 2012's last-place finishers.

• The Red Sox Gulf Coast League team plays at noon in Jupiter against the GCL Cardinals in a one-game semifinal playoff. If they win, they will meet a Yankees GCL team in a best-of-three final round, in which Cuban newcomer Rusney Castillo could possibly see action. Castillo was working out in Fort Myers on Friday morning.

• Rookie right-hander Anthony Ranaudo is starting for the Sox on Friday night. Ranaudo, who has made two previous starts for the Sox and won them both, has won his last 11 decisions (9 for Pawtucket) since last losing a game June 1 at Norfolk.

The 6-foot-7 Ranaudo pitched six innings in both of his starts for the Sox, beating the Yankees, 4-3, in Fenway Park on Aug. 1 and beating the Reds, 5-4, on Aug. 13 in Cincinnati, despite giving up all four runs (and two homers) in six innings.

His numbers across the board in Pawtucket are impressive: 14-4 with a 2.61 ERA, 111 strikeouts and 54 walks in 138 innings, opponents’ batting average of .223 and a WHIP of 1.20.

Jon Lester and John Lackey have produced identical results in one important category since their trades to the Athletics and Cardinals, respectively. Both of their teams have won four out of the five games in which they have started. Lackey was knocked around for nine runs in five innings against the Orioles on Aug. 9, but has allowed two earned runs or fewer in his other four starts, and has gone seven innings in three of them.

Lester, meanwhile, has allowed three earned runs or fewer in all five of his starts, one a complete-game shutout win over the Twins.

Jake Peavy, meanwhile, has seen his luck improve only marginally since his trade to the Giants, who are 2-4 in his six starts. He wound up with a loss in his last start, Aug. 25 against the Rockies, even though he allowed just one earned run in seven innings. He has allowed three earned runs or fewer in five of his six starts.

• Sox starters since the July 31 trading deadline are 5-8 with a 5.19 ERA. Nine times in that span a starter has failed to go six innings, including four out of the last six starts, which has taxed an undermanned Sox bullpen.

Snapshots: Castillo takes the field

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
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Rusney Castillo took the field Thursday morning at Fenway South in Fort Myers, Fla. Here's a peek at the newest member of the Red Sox organization.

Rusney CastilloRick Weber
Rusney CastilloRick Weber
Rusney CastilloRick Weber
Rusney CastilloRick Weber
Rusney CastilloCourtesy Rick Weber
Rusney CastilloRick Weber/ESPN

Holt's pals say he's always been a hit

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
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[+] EnlargeBrock Holt
Rick Madonik/Getty ImagesBrock Holt has capably manned every position on the diamond other than pitcher and catcher.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- First impression of Brock Holt? The New York investment banker chuckled.

"I don't think he said two words to anyone," said Pat Irvine, who was the third baseman to Holt's shortstop on the State College (Pennsylvania) Spikes, the team in the Class A New York-Penn League where they both made their professional debut in 2009. "He was super quiet."

Quiet, but not alone. Irvine saw to that. So did Tony Sanchez, the former Boston College star catcher and No. 1 draft pick for the Pittsburgh Pirates that season.

"He had the locker next to me," Sanchez said. "The team had already begun its season, we were trying to slide in, and it was an uncomfortable situation.

"I said to him, 'Hey man, you're uncomfortable. I'm uncomfortable. Let's be uncomfortable together.'"

It didn't take long for Sanchez, the city kid from Miami, and Holt, the country boy from Stephenville, Texas, to discover they had similar ideas of how to have a good time.

"Sitting on a couch, falling asleep to a TV show," Sanchez says. "No excitement with us. It's all low-maintenance."


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Castillo wastes no time getting started

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- On the first day after receiving his work visa from the U.S. government, Rusney Castillo went to work.

There was nothing glamorous about the day for Castillo, a 27-year-old Cuban native who signed a seven-year, $72.5 million contract with the Boston Red Sox, the largest contract ever given to an amateur.

[+] EnlargeRusney Castillo
Rick WeberCastillo had two sessions in the batting cage on Thursday morning in Fort Myers.
Under a searing Florida sun on Thursday morning, he was taken through a series of basic drills by Laz Gutierrez, the organization’s coordinator of player development programs, while a dozen fans and autograph seekers watched from behind the fence on Field 3 at the Fenway South complex.

But it was clearly a big day for Castillo, who smiled broadly throughout the workout -- which came less than a day after he found out he had been granted a P-1A work visa from the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services for "internationally recognized athletes."

He is now eligible to play in games, although the Red Sox are keeping a veil of secrecy around their plans for him. Castillo is not being allowed to talk to the media until he plays in his first game, and no one at Fenway South is authorized to talk about Castillo.

Castillo did not play for Boston's rookie league affiliate in the Gulf Coast League in Thursday’s game against the Orioles -- the last regular-season game. The Red Sox, who won the GCL's South Division, play a one-game semifinal Friday, with the winners meeting in a best-of-three final beginning Saturday.

It is expected that Castillo will be brought up to the big leagues before the end of the season, but Red Sox manager John Farrell has said that Castillo probably will play at least a few games in the minor leagues before that happens.

Red Sox fans will have a hard time staying patient. In this devastatingly disappointing season, Castillo provides hope. Nothing can be done to salvage this season, but Castillo is an electrifying light that will brighten the months leading up to spring training.

Father Jerry Hogan, a Boston priest who is staying at his home in Sarasota and will be attending this weekend’s games against the Rays at Tropicana Field, drove down to Fort Myers on Thursday morning to see what the Castillo buzz is all about.

[+] EnlargeRusney Castillo
Rick WeberAfter a few hours on the field and in the cage, Castillo signed autographs for everyone who asked.
“It’s the most exciting thing going right now, especially since we’re in last place,” he said. “He’s a Cuban player, and everybody is looking forward to seeing what he can do. You never know, but absolutely, it’s exciting. This is getting us through the season and into next year.”

Castillo could turn out to be a replica of countrymen Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu and Yoenis Cespedes. Or he could turn out to be something much less -- a center fielder with speed and an average bat. Not everybody agrees on his future, which is especially hard to gauge because he has not played in any games since 2012, his last season in Serie Nacional, the Cuban professional league.

For now, he’s getting to know the Red Sox, and they’re getting to know him.

Castillo’s day started at 7:30 with a session in the weight room. At 8:31, he emerged from the facility and headed to the cage, where Gutierrez fed him pitches for 27 minutes.

At 9:05, Castillo headed out to Field 3, where he stretched and did some long toss with Gutierrez. At 9:33, he grabbed his glove and headed to center field, fielding fly balls and line drives from Gutierrez, who spoke to him in Spanish throughout most of the workout.

At 9:44, he got into the batting cage and hit for 17 minutes. Castillo has been criticized for a “long swing,” but the ball comes off his bat in explosive fashion. He has added 20 pounds of muscle since defecting from Cuba, but he still appears to be the line-drive hitter he was in Cuba.

After batting practice, Castillo got back in the box and simulated the hitting motion, running to first. After a few minutes, he practiced rounding first and running through second base.

At 10:12, his workout was done, and he started heading for the center field exit with Gutierrez.

“Rusney!” one fan shouted.

Castillo came over to the dugout and signed every item that was placed in his hands. And he kept signing until the last fan left.


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