BOSTON -- Sunday marks the one-year anniversary of the Boston Red Sox signing Rusney Castillo. The native of Cuba was inked to a record deal for total dollars to a free-agent amateur with a seven-year, $72.5 million deal.
It was a lot of dough to shell out for any prospect, let alone a player who, at the time, hadn’t played in almost two calendar years after defecting from Cuba. But a lot has changed in a year. When Castillo arrived last year, the team under then-general manager Ben Cherington binged on outfielders at the trade deadline. Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig (although still with the organization) have come and gone.
A little less than a month after signing, Castillo, now 28, made his Red Sox debut, going 1-for-4 in a 9-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sept. 17. The learning curve has continued for Castillo into the 2015 season after playing just 10 games with Boston last year. There have been flashes of his potential as well as a smattering of frustrating moments with mental mistakes in the field and while running the bases. Castillo has put up a .286/.318/.415 line for a .733 OPS in 46 games since being called up from Triple-A Pawtucket for the first time this season in May.
Before Saturday’s game against the Kansas City Royals, Red Sox interim manager Torey Lovullo took some time to look back on Castillo’s development to date.
“He came to us very raw,” said Lovullo, who was operating as John Farrell’s bench coach at the time of Castillo’s arrival last year. “It was kind of like a try-out camp with his potential. He was strong, he was physical, but he had to get back into the baseball shape that you see today.”
Castillo, who played five years for Ciego de Avila in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, was first noticed on the international stage during baseball’s World Cup in Oct. 2011, when he hit .512 with eight extra-base hits, including two home runs, in 10 games.
Little is known to this day about the details of his defection from Cuba. After arriving in the United States last year with his wife and five-year-old daughter, Castillo was living with a relative outside of Miami. He worked out for a period of about a month before Roc Nation Sports -- the agency founded by Jay-Z that represents Castilllo -- held an open showcase with 28 of 30 major league teams in attendance. The Red Sox reportedly had had interest in Castillo previously and were tracking his international appearances dating back to 2012.
“I know he didn’t play a lot of organized baseball before joining us last year,” Lovullo said. “Transitioning into this year, he had a lot of injuries that he was fighting through.”
That only contributed to the organization’s decision to start Castillo at Triple-A for the beginning of the season. There have been other hurdles for Castillo to adapt to while becoming acclimated to both major league life and living in the United States. But Lovullo said those have been closed steadily with each day Castillo has spent in Boston.
“He’s going to get there because he’s a kid that has great aptitude,” Lovullo said. “There’s a little bit of a language barrier, but that is decreasing, and he pays attention and he cares.”
Castillo’s shown his comfort of late at the plate. He was riding a seven-game hitting streak heading into Saturday night’s game, with an on-base streak stretching 12 games. Since his July 27 recall, Castillo is hitting .342 with a .548 slugging percentage.
“He represents a lot of the things that we want as a Boston Red Sox,” Lovullo said.