Coming in at number 26 on our 2017 Cleveland Indians top prospect countdown is shortstop Willi Castro, who moves up four spots from last season.
Who is Willi Castro?
Willi Castro was originally signed by the Cleveland Indians in July 2013 as an undrafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic for a rather hefty $850,000. He’s a 19-year-old switch-hitting shortstop who stands 6-foot 1 and weighs just 165 pounds.
He is a second generation professional baseball player as his father Liliano Castro played minor league ball for a couple of years and has been a minor league instructor with the New York Mets.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Strictly going by numbers, Castro doesn’t look like a very impressive prospect. He’s never been a plus hitter at any level, posting a wRC+ well below 100 each of the three seasons he’s been a professional (84, 89, 89). However, each of those three seasons, Castro has been one of the youngest players at his level, including this past year when he was 19 at Class-A Lake County (he began the year at just 18).
Offensively he makes solid contact and has hit at least .258 the last two seasons. He did hit better as a left-handed hitter in 2016, though overall the last three seasons the switch-hitter has done well against both righties and lefties and kept his splits relatively even.
He has yet to display much power, hitting just 10 home runs in 236 games. However, he did impress in 2016 with 36 extra-base hits (seven home runs, 21 doubles, and eight triples). Scouts hope that as he ages and fills out his frame that his double power will develop into more home run power.
More from Away Back Gone
Defensively he’s played exclusively shortstop the last two years after playing some second base back in 2014. He has a good arm and his athleticism fits the position. He did make 25 errors this past year so there’s room to improve but there are no plans as of now to move him off the position. His athleticism would allow him to play virtually anywhere on the diamond including the outfield. He’s got some good speed too, swiping 20 bases in 2015 and 16 this past year (though he was caught 11 times as well).
Where Castro really struggles is getting on base. His career walk rate is just 3.4-percent and he has a .291 on-base percentage. His .285 OBP in 2016 doesn’t show any improvement in that department either, especially given his .280 OBP in the second half of the year. The low walk-rate didn’t seem like a huge issue prior to 2016, coming off a season where he struck out just 10.3-percent of the time (that’s Jose Ramirez level). However, he struck out just over 17-percent of the time in 2016, which, while not bad, hardly makes up for the walk rate.
Where does he go from here?
While the stat-sheet numbers haven’t yet been there for Castro, he still remains young enough that his star is very bright. He very likely will begin this coming season where he finished 2016 at Advanced-A Lynchburg, which would be very impressive for the still 19-year-old shortstop. He’ll need to start hitting more but should have the shortstop position to himself once again.
Plenty of sources have Castro rated higher than our 26th, including MLB.com (14th) and Fangraphs (17th). However, even given the youth and potential I still have a hard time putting him that high given the very poor on-base skills.
He remains one of the more intriguing prospects in the top 30 with major potential; however, I’m still becoming more skeptical that he’ll ever reach that potential. 2017 will be a key year for Castro as he needs to show some real improvement offensively.