Our 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 Rodolfo Castro, who is playing in the Dominican.
Rodolfo Castro split the 2022 season fairly even between Triple-A Indianapolis (75 games) and the Pirates (71 games). His stats were very similar in each spot, with a slightly lower average and slightly lower walk rate in the majors, leading to a 35-point different in his OBP, though the power numbers were almost identical. He put up a solid OPS at each level, finishing 26 points above the International League average and 14 points above the National League average. The red flag was his 160 strikeouts on the season.
Castro the fielder was versatile at both levels, playing 15+ games at third base, shortstop and second base in Indianapolis and in Pittsburgh. He also committed 23 errors total.
This winter has not been kind to Castro, the hitter or the fielder. He hit his first homer of the winter in his 21st game last night. He has an average below the Mendoza Line, and his OPS in below league average in a down year for offense. He has also committed six errors, while mostly playing third base.
Castro played well enough during his final 50 games of the season (.788 OPS) that he is currently the favorite for the starting second base job. He’s young enough that you can easily picture more upside in the majors with experience. He will still be 23 years old on Opening Day. Even without improvement, his half season was worth 1.3 WAR, so a full season at that pace would be nice production at second base.
It’s a big season for Castro, because there are a few potential challengers for that second base job coming up. I believe Ji-hwan Bae has higher upside, but he also might be better in the utility type role getting regular at-bats while playing various positions. Then there’s Nick Gonzales, who received some praise for his solid contact during the Arizona Fall League. He finished well with a .913 OPS in 28 games for Altoona after returning from an injury.
While I believe that Liover Peguero has the ability to be a better defensive shortstop than Oneil Cruz, I also believe that the plan is to leave Cruz at shortstop for now. Peguero would fit at second base then, and he is one of my favorites to have a breakout year in 2023. All of the tools are there for it, he just needs more consistency at the plate, and to iron out the fielding issues, which should come along with experience. Castro is young, but Peguero is a full 19 months younger than him, so he has time. Once Peguero starts finding that hitting stroke more often, he will likely more up to the majors quicker.
Basically, Castro has a shot to cement his spot before everyone else comes along to try to take it from him. It will be interesting to see if he can do that. His winter performance isn’t giving any confidence right now on either side of the ball, and he’s not getting regular turns at second base either. His winter team needs him at third base, so that’s not exactly a surprise, but you would hope that Ke’Bryan Hayes plays enough third base in 2023 that it leaves very little time for anyone else.
There’s still time left this winter for Castro to put in work, assuming the Pirates aren’t shutting him down soon.
Around the World
Oneil Cruz has put in just over a week, so it’s still very early in his process. He had one huge day, a rough four games, then did well last night in a doubleheader. He’s been splitting between shortstop and DH, with two errors in his limited time, both in the same game. We will focus on his winter once we get a bigger sample size.
Miguel Andújar was off to a nice start, then he struggled this past week. He’s still only 12 games into the winter, so it’s been a small sample size. His .768 OPS is a big drop from last week, but it’s still 140 points above league average this year, as pitchers are dominating. Yohan Ramirez recently debuted and he’s thrown shutout ball in his seven appearances, totaling 7.1 innings. Lolo Sanchez debuted last week, but his only work has come as a pinch-runner.
Lewin Diaz was part of our winter coverage for a week before the Pirates lost him on waivers.
Osvaldo Bido was our main subject last Saturday, then the Pirates shut him down a few days later. That Pirates Winter Report serves as his wrap-up of the winter as well.
Diego Castillo was off to a hot start, but he suffered a minor knee injury and missed a few games. He’s been on fire since returning, headlining three straight Winter Leagues articles here. He has a .373 average and a 1.069 OPS through 20 games. That ranked him second in the league among qualified hitters in OPS going into Friday night’s action (his team was rained out)
Venezuela got really quiet all of a sudden, as both Miguel Yajure and Ali Sanchez were claimed off of waivers. Neither will be part of our future coverage.
Fabrico Macias and Jared Oliva are both playing regularly. Oliva had a bit of a down week, but his stats over 42 games are still well above league average. He got there by getting on base at a nice clip, which has led to 14 stolen bases this winter. Macias had his down week(s) coming into this week, then a string of games recently pushed him back towards being a league average hitter. Macias played just 70 games in 2022, so he’s making up for all of his missed time by playing regularly over the last seven weeks.
Denny Roman has thrown shutout ball in limited relief work. He pitched outstanding in Bradenton this season, then really struggled in Greensboro, plus he missed some time, so this winter ball action is good experience for him.
Puerto Rico is seeing strong pitching from Brad Case, Will Kobos, and Jeffrey Passantino. Case just gave up his first run, which was a tough way to break a shutout streak. He retired five batters in a row, allowed a single, got pulled with two outs, then a reliever allowed two straight hits to hang an earned run on him. All three Pirates pitchers have now allowed one run each, while combining for 24 innings pitched.
Tsung-Che Cheng will report this month, along with Will Matthiessen, who was injured for most of 2022. Aaron Shackelford hasn’t played since his first game due to a wrist injury and his winter is done.
The Pirates signed Shawn Ross as a minor league free agent, with his only experience being independent ball. He hit 42 homers and stole 31 bases in 137 games between college and indy ball in 2022. He has struggled badly in Puerto Rico so far, but the league is a huge step in talent (and experience) from anything he’s played before.
Sydney has six Pirates players in Sammy Siani, Ernny Ordonez, Jase Bowen, Dylan Shockley, Solomon Maguire and Jesus Castillo. Both Castillo and Maguire are off to rough starts, but that’s about what you should expect from two players making the jump from the FCL during the regular season, to the Australian league for winter ball. We’ve seen this in the past and there are no success stories from it, which is why the different levels of minor league baseball exist. The other four players are all at a perfect level for their experience, and they have all basically held their own so far. Siani has had a few big games, leading to slightly better stats, while Bowen and Ordonez seem like they get on base at least once every game. Shockley missed time in 2022, so he’s getting a chance to make up some at-bats and play regularly.
The league in Colombia is led so far by the hitting of Andres Alvarez and Rodolfo Nolasco. Alvarez got off to a fast start and has been solid over the last few weeks, putting him as one of the best hitters in the league. Nolasco got off to a rough start and has been strong the last two weeks. Alvarez has a full year at Double-A, so this isn’t a good level of play for him, though it’s allowing him to get some extra outfield work, which could be helpful for him going into 2023. Nolasco missed some time in 2022, and this is a perfect level of competition for him. He has a winter league team in the Dominican, but that league is far too advanced for him, and he would never see action. Sending him to Colombia allows him to play regularly.
Oliver Mateo continued to rack up strikeouts, though his control has been spotty. He’s too advanced for this league, but he needs the extra work after missing most of the 2022 season. Cristian Charle, Diego Chiquillo and Adrian Florencio have all struggled, which is bad to see from Charle and Florencio, because they should do well at this level of competition. Chiquillo only has DSL experience, so this is a step up in competition, and he likely only got a chance in the league because he’s from Colombia. He’s about a year ahead of when he should first arrive in this league. Francisco Acuna was off to a very rough start, but he has picked things up recently. The downside is that he’s going to be suspended for most of the first half of the 2023 season due to a PED violation.
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.