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Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Pirates Winter Report: Diego Castillo Gains Some Needed Versatility in Venezuela

Our new Pirates Winter Report will highlight one Pittsburgh Pirates prospect each week, then give brief notes from each country playing winter ball. This week, we feature Diego Castillo, who spent the 2022 season between the Pirates and Triple-A Indianapolis. He’s playing this winter in Venezuela.

Not long after he played his first winter league game in Venezuela this year, Diego Castillo spoke to his local media about his plans for the winter. He said that the Pirates were going to let him play a lot, and they wanted him to use the entire field, both on offense and defense.

The Pirates know that Castillo will have value to them in 2023 and beyond if he can play multiple positions well. They also know his hitting has to improve to make that possible. The 25-year-old posted a -0.8 WAR in his rookie season. He batted .206/.251/.382 in 96 games, which was worth 0.2 WAR in this day and age of power hungry hitters with low averages and high strikeouts. His defense is what dragged him into the negative numbers.

So far this winter season, he has played shortstop, second base and right field, where he has committed three errors in 11 chances. That makes it hard for his winter team to keep letting him play outfield, when they are trying to win a league title.

The Pirates also told Castillo that they want him to try to use the entire field at the plate by improving his approach. Let’s face it, any improvements in his 5% walk rate, 26.5% strikeout rate, and his low average, will help him out in the future. Just because MLB is creating launch angle robots who swing for the fences in every situation, doesn’t mean it works for everyone. Castillo has shown better results in the upper levels of the minors that lead you to believe that there’s the potential for better big league numbers.

While winter ball is a great way to help a player on defense, regardless of where they play, it’s not always good for the offense. If the drop in competition is too much, the experience is borderline useless for a player who was healthy all season. With that in mind, I wanted to see what kind of pitchers he was facing this winter.

Venezuela hasn’t been getting the quality of players recently due to turmoil in their country. They get fewer quality import players than other winter leagues, and even some players from Venezuela don’t go back home to play. That doesn’t mean the competition isn’t good though.

A run through the pitchers in Venezuela right now shows 27 pitchers who have MLB experience. That doesn’t compare well to the Dominican, where that number is twice as high (56), despite the Dominican league having six teams, while Venezuela has eight. However, it’s much better than Mexico, where there are only ten pitchers right now with big league experience in a league with ten teams. You could put Venezuela on par with Puerto Rico, which has 12 pitchers with big league experience for six teams, but it’s still early in their season, so more should arrive. Venezuela isn’t as strong as it has been, but it’s not bad either.

Castillo is seeing competition at least equal to Triple-A, and let’s face it, most of MLB pitching is equal to Triple-A now with all of the players teams use. There were 871 MLB pitchers used in 2022. Math will tell you that equals 29 per team, though team averages are higher due to overlap. With 13-man pitching staffs, you’re seeing entire Triple-A staffs around baseball taking up big league time, and we are even dipping into Double-A staffs for some players at those rates. More than half of the big league pitchers we saw this year didn’t make the Opening Day roster.

Compare those big league numbers to Venezuela, where they not only get MLB players, there are a lot of veteran players who capped at Triple-A in their career, and others who play summer ball in Mexico and winter ball at home. The average age of Venezuelan league pitchers in 28.6 years old, almost exactly the same average for MLB pitchers this year.

Am I saying Castillo is seeing pitchers comparable to MLB games? That would be no. I am saying that he’s seeing MLB quality pitchers at times, especially when you consider that MLB pitching is extremely watered down right now. He’s seeing a lot of pitchers who are just as good as many of the pitchers he saw in the majors this year. That all leads me to believe that there is value gained for him on offense by playing in the league, just like he gained value out of playing with Indianapolis during the regular season.

Around the World

Dominican Republic

The Dominican is still going slow. Oneil Cruz still hasn’t debuted yet, despite being allowed by the Pirates to report on November 1st. He was going through batting practice and fielding drills on the same day 13 days ago, and he played a minor league game (called the Parallel League) more than a week ago. There was a rumor of a salary dispute with his winter team, which may or may not be true. The much needed added experience would have been great for him at shortstop, but the season is about half over now.

Rodolfo Castro is playing regularly and things could be going better, but his .616 OPS and four errors in ten games is clearly a very small sample size. Yohan Ramirez recently debuted and he’s thrown shutout ball in his three appearances.

Venezuela

Besides Diego Castillo, there’s one other player of note in Venezuela. Catcher Ali Sanchez is serving in a bench/defensive replacement role after a few games as a starter, so he’s getting very few at-bats. He had a solid game on Thursday, but not much else to report. The Pirates only have two catchers on their 40-man roster, Sanchez and Endy Rodriguez, who most certainly isn’t an Opening Day option with his limited upper level experience. They will need at least one other catcher for the early part of the season.

Mexico

Fabrico Macias and Jared Oliva are both playing regularly and seeing average results. They are both batting near/at the top of the order, putting up results that don’t really stand out as much, until you see that the league in putting up a .667 OPS this year. Only 12 regulars in the league have an OPS over .800. Oliva is about 60 points above league average, while Macias is slightly below average. It’s odd that I noted how few MLB pitchers were in the league, but Mexico also has a lot of experienced pitchers who only do summer/winter in Mexico. Their average age for pitchers is over 28 years old.

Puerto Rico

The schedule in Puerto Rico started two weeks ago today. So far we have seen Brad Case, Will Kobos, Jeffrey Passantino and Aaron Shackelford, though Shackelford only played on Opening Day. The pitchers are all doing well, combining to allow two runs in 14.1 innings going into Friday night. Case has been dominant. Kobos is racking up strikeouts. Passantino has been efficient and effective.

Nick Gonzales won’t be playing winter ball this off-season as originally planned, but he is being replaced by Tsung-Che Cheng, who was recently named as the best baserunner in the Pirates system and he was named to the Florida State League All-Star team. Cheng will report in December.

Australia

The league in Australia started ten days ago and Sydney is loaded with Pirates prospects. They have Jesus Castillo, Sammy Siani, Ernny Ordonez, Dylan Shockley, Jase Bowen and Solomon Maguire. Bowen and Maguire just started this week, while the others all played four games during the first week of action. It’s still a bit too early for anything to stand out, but we did take a closer look at Castillo last week. Friday’s game saw all six Pirates playing at the same time.

Colombia

The league in Colombia is off to a mixed start for all of the Pirates. Andres Alvarez has started great, though he has a full year of Double-A experience, playing in a league that is no more than Low-A quality at best. Francisco Acuna is playing, which is good because he will still be suspended at the beginning of the 2023 season due to a PED violation. Rodolofo Nolasco is off to a slow start. This level of play is perfect for him to make up for some missed injury time in 2022. Cristian Charle, Oliver Mateo, Adrian Florencio and Diego Chiquillo have all seen brief time so far, while Eddy Yean is also scheduled to play in the league.

United States

The Arizona Fall League has ended, and you can check out our recap of the eight Pirates minor leaguers in competition.

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John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.

When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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bradlej31

Castillo had a .300 point OPS platoon split. He’s a major league regular against LHP… who can play SS. That has value on a bench.

1979andCounting

Fantastic report John. A real credit to all the relationships you have built around the world! Nice job, thanks.

Anthony

IMO, Castillo has done absolutely nothing to warrant consideration for playing time next year. He’s equally atrocious on both offense AND defense. This is just another example of how AA is NOT MLB.

b mcferren

agreed

bring back Chavis or Adam Frazier instead of giving Castillo playing time

Anthony

Feelings aren’t facts  skliesen.

Anthony

He’s another all SLG guy with no defensive position. FWIW, I was excited about him at the beginning of last year, fresh off a breakout in 2021. But unfortunately, it’s looking more like that breakout was an anomaly.

emjayinTN

Thanks John, but Castillo has lots of SS/2B experience, why not some time at 1B?

I still think keeping he and Hoy Park on the 40 was a mistake. Two guys who I consider to be excess baggage and at least 2 young prospects left exposed in the Rule 5 draft.

Anthony

You have Castillo, Park, and Marcano. In an ideal world, roster construction has a 4th OF, utility IF, a DH that can actually hit, and a RH platoon at 1B. Ostensively, none of these guys “fit” on the active roster unless Bae is your starting CF. In this scenario, if I’m looking to fill the utility IF spot internally, I would be inclined to go with defensive value, or Marcano.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t saying much, but the way I see it, Castillo and Park are effectively maxed-out from a tools perspective, while Marcano has at least some projection left and is the best athlete of the three. The main point being; there is no reason for this team to have more than one of these guys on the active roster, absolutely none.

emjayinTN

We agree on the overall scenario regarding not needing Castillo or Park, but I’d give Ji-Hwan Bae the edge with the glove at 2B and also with the bat over Marcano.

Anthony

100% agree. I’m a big Bae fan; his skill set is underrated.

emjayinTN

Thank you for the info. Nunez looks strong and could be a possibility at 1B as early as mid-2023, but that would depend on how he starts the year at AAA. So far the bat and the glove were both there at Altoona, so, let’s hope. His splits indicate he hits both LHP’s and RHP’s almost equally well.

But for 2023, we need a RH hitting player who can handle 1B defensively. Castro would be my best suggestion, but he is going to need some side work over the Winter. Are the teams able to schedule paid work such as arrive at ST 2 weeks early?

emjayinTN

Thank you.

john_fluharty

Nice write up on the relative experience level of each of the leagues.

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