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.
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.
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.’’