In February of 2019 Pittsburgh Pirates’ owner and chairman, Bob Nutting, spoke of his plans to expand the team’s already existing Baseball Academy in the Dominican Republic; doubling the facilities that were present at that time. The original project had cost the Pirates approximately $5 million dollars and to date had only produced a few Dominican-born prospects. Mr. Nutting was probably completely unaware that as he was making this announcement, the Pirates had a Dominican-born player, named Rodolfo Castro, in their system that was ready to break into the Pittsburgh Pirates top prospects list that coming summer.
On October 30, 2015 the Pittsburgh Pirates signed the 16-year-old shortstop during the international amateur free-agency period to a $150,000 contract. His first taste of professional baseball would come the following summer as the Pirates assigned him to the DSL Pirates (Pittsburgh’s Foreign Rookie Level Affiliate) of the Dominican Summer League. For being only 17 years old the 6’, 200 pound, switch-hitting shortstop performed very well.
In 56 games and 230 plate appearances the young Castro posted a slash line of .271/.360/.411, with 2 home runs and 20 extra base hits. The next year in three less games, Castro produced very similar numbers (.277/.344/479 with 6 homers and 22 extra base hits for the GCL Pirates (Pittsburgh’s Rookie Level Affiliate) in the Gulf Coast League. During this season Castro began to split his time defensively almost exactly three ways, between second base (15), third base (17) and shortstop (19). It was clear that his best positions were his natural SS and his adopted second base, but he performed well at third as well.
After his second full winter off in a row, Castro joined the West Virginia Power (Pittsburgh’s former Low A Affiliate) in the South Atlantic League for the 2018 season. The consistency that he had exhibited in his first two years in the Pirate’s farm system did not continue through his third season. His strike out rate swelled to 26%, his walk rate fell to 6.8%, his batting average dropped to .231 and he only totaled 35 extra base hits in twice as many games as the previous two seasons. Another change was that for the first time in his career he played more games at another position, second base (89 Games) than he did at his drafted position, SS (12 Games).
Due to his struggles during this season, as well as an stint on the IL at the end of July, with the Power it was determined that Castro would be assigned to Gigantes de Carolina of the Puerto Rican Winter League during the 2018-2019 off-season. Castro would only go on to appear in 8 games for Carolina that off-season and get 27 plate appearances. Unsurprisingly his numbers were not that impressive as he batted .269, with a .672 OPS and 12 strike outs.
Following this disappointing season it was not a shock when he was assigned to the Greensboro Grasshoppers (Pittsburgh’s Low A Affiliate beginning in 2019) of the South Atlantic League, his second year in a row at this level. However, this year was going to be a little different. For the first two months of the season, his strike out rate still hovered between 25 and 30%, but his batting average once again returned to around .263 and his power returned as he hit 13 home runs, accounting for a .901 OPS.
This resurgence led to a promotion to the Bradenton Marauders (Pittsburgh’s High A/Advanced Affiliate) of the Florida State League at the end of June. At this point Castro began to labor and slump more than he had in his entire career thus far, as he batted only .132/.192/.206 in the month of July and hit a only a singl home run. It looked like things might not get better for the young Dominican. Luckily for Castro things did get better, a lot better. For the month of August he hit .299/.346/.443, with 2 homers and 10 extra base hits in only 26 games. It should be noted that in his short time in Bradenton he did play third base in 4 games, which has always been the position where he performed the worst. It is possible that this change in position and level threw off the rhythm that he found earlier in the season.
In spite of the bumps in the road that he experienced during the past two seasons, Rodolfo’s hard work was rewarded with a spot on the MLB Pipeline Pittsburgh Pirates Top 30 Prospects, landing at #22. So what does the future hold for Castro? He had been scheduled to play Toros Del Este of the Dominican Winter League, but was placed on the reserves list. Also, he will be turning 21 as the season begins, which would still make him almost a full year and half below the average age of a High A/Advanced Player. This signals to me that he could end up starting the year back in Bradenton; with the goals of reducing his strike out rate, increasing his walk rate and attempting to find a balance between hit/contact and power. If at all possible I would limit his defensive usage to only two positions, primarily second base with a little SS sprinkled in, where he is rated as 50 grade in fielding, speed and throwing. I could easily see Castro getting off to another hot start this season, especially after he turned things around so well for the last month of season and get promoted to the Altoona Curve (Pittsburgh’s AA Affiliate) of the Eastern League fairly quickly.
However, this is where the logjam at the infield positions, particularly the ones up the middle begins. Previous prospect spotlight player Robbie Glendinning is the most likely starter at 2B for the Curve, although he can also move around the infield. Then as you go up the ladder to the Indianapolis Indians (Pittsburgh’s AAA Affiliate) of the International League, you could find yourself competing against Pirates #9 ranked prospect in Kevin Kramer, although he is currently listed as an outfielder on the Pirates active roster. This is about as high as I would go in the system for the time being, as Castro is not projected to be on the MLB team until 2022 and a lot of things could change by that point. However, I will say that the future looks pretty bright for Rodolfo Castro, no matter when he finds himself in the big leagues.
Follow Craig on Twitter: @BucsBasement