Pirates Winter Report: Jesus Castillo is Getting Great Experience at a Young Age

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 Jesus Castillo, who spent the 2022 season in the Florida Complex League, and is currently playing in Australia.

Jesus Castillo isn’t a well known prospect name. You have to really follow this site to know who he is, but that’s something that could change in the future.

Castillo made a huge jump this season, culminating with the Florida Complex League batting title. Before the season even started, we mentioned him as a player to watch in Extended Spring Training. An earlier article pointed out that the bat still needed some work and there was a question as to whether he would hit enough. You would think that winning a batting title would answer that question, but the first link explains his weakness a little better, and his slash line this year shows that there’s still an issue.

Castillo had a late growth spurt before signing with the Pirates. He was also considered to be someone who needed to add a lot of muscle/weight/fill out. He’s still really in that camp of needing to add more muscle. I noted that his approach at the plate was strong, but he was the definition of a singles hitter. That was evident in his debut last year in the Dominican Summer League when he had three extra-base hits in 147 at-bats. This season he batted .352/.439/.383 in 150 plate appearances. That 29-point difference in average and slugging comes from four doubles, no triples, and no homers. He didn’t homer last year either.

We don’t need to see Castillo turn into a 15-20 home run guy to have value. He can play defense around the infield. He has excellent speed and his approach at the plate is terrific. We just need to see him drive the ball a little better. The higher you go, the harder it is to sneak hits through the infield, or drop the ball in front of outfielders consistently.

The good part is that he will still be 19 years old for half of the 2023 season, and this wasn’t totally unexpected due to his late growth spurt. The Pirates already knew they had some work to do in that area long before he officially signed, they just got a little more than they bargained for with the added height.

Castillo just started playing winter ball in Australia for the Sydney Blue Sox, a team managed by Pirates scout Tony Harris. Despite being 19 years old, in a league filled with older players who have experience in Double-A or higher, Harris has Castillo playing shortstop and batting lead-off.

This is going to be great experience for the young infielder from Venezuela. He’s not going to see much elite velocity in Australia, but he’s going to see pitchers who are a lot more polished than the ones he saw this year in the FCL. That’s going to help him as he steps into full-season ball next year.

Around the World

Dominican Republic

The Dominican is going slow right now, but it will pick up soon. Oneil Cruz reported to his team last Friday. He will be in action as soon as he’s in game shape from having the last month off. He has played exhibition games, but hasn’t entered a regular season game yet. That could happen any day now.

Rodolfo Castro and Osvaldo Bido had a rare Pirates vs Pirates match-up on Friday night. It was won by Bido, who got a ground out to start the game, then a three-pitch strikeout in the third. He faced just 17 batters in five scoreless. He has pitched well in four of his five starts this winter, posting a 2.60 ERA in 17.1 innings. Castro has been batting lead-off and playing third base in all five games so far.

There was a lot of interest in the league early, but as mentioned last week, Liover Peguero, Endy Rodriguez and Dariel Lopez were all on limited schedules.

Venezuela

Diego Castillo made his debut last week. He told the local media in Venezuela that the Pirates want him using the entire field, both as a hitter and on defense. So far he has played shortstop, second base and corner outfield. The hitting has been slow to come around, with a .200 average and a .545 OPS in nine games, but it’s still very early in the off-season. 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.

Mexico

Fabrico Macias and Jared Oliva are both playing regularly and seeing average results. Oliva was struggling and not playing when we checked on him last Saturday, but he switched teams in the league and debuted with a 3-for-3 game. He’s been in the lineup every day since. He has a .291 average and a .754 OPS in 24 games. Macias has also been playing regularly. Going into action late last night, he was hitting .260 with a .672 OPS in 24 games.

Puerto Rico

The schedule in Puerto Rico started last Saturday. So far we have seen Brad Case, Will Kobos, Jeffrey Passantino and Aaron Shackelford have all played. Case has been the impressive one early on, making three appearances and retiring all nine batters he has faced. Kobos and Passantino have also been seeing one inning of work at a time, while Shackelford has played just one game.

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 three days ago. Besides Castillo, Sydney has also used Sammy Siani, Ernny Ordonez and Dylan Shockley. Nothing interesting to report just yet, but there will be plenty from Australia this off-season, as Jase Bowen and Solomon Maguire are both expected to play.

Colombia

The league in Colombia began last night. There will be eight Pirates in the league, with five pitchers on the same staff. Eddy YeanJohan MonteroCristian CharleOliver Mateo and Diego Chiquillo will all be on one team, along with infielder Andres Alvarez. Outfielder Rodolfo Nolasco and infielder Francisco Acuna are also in the league.

Arizona Fall League

United States

While it’s not winter ball, just a reminder that the AFL Championship game takes place tonight on MLB Network and the Surprise Saguaros/Pirates will be hosting the title game. They finished 19-10, giving them the best record in the league.

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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Wilbur Miller

Meanwhile, in the AFL title game, Nick G is 3-for-4 with an opposite field dinger. When he gets hot, he doesn’t do it halfway.

Bucs'N'Pucks (Jeff Reed)

They get the chip!!!! Selby with the W!!!

How were tamales, btw?

Wilbur Miller

Muy bueno.

Todd

The AFL finished with Gonzales absolutely crushing the ball. A 4 for 4 game
in the season finale including a double. He played short, second and third.
As for winter ball perhaps the Pirates want him to rest/recover from a long year?!

RaisetheJollyRancherGirl

Did you get any word why the change of plans with Gonzales/winter ball?

roberto

The MLB numbers suggest that Castro has much higher contact rates as a right handed batter. Is that true for his MiLB career as well?

Wilbur Miller

He’s just been way better hitting RH so far in all respects.

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