The Tigers gave their 26-year-old utility man far more playing time than anyone anticipated in 2019, and he figures to receive a significant share in 2020. Does he really have the talent to stick around?
At this time last year, most would have had trouble settling on their prediction for a Tigers Rookie of the Year prediction. Now a relative lock for the starting rotation, Spencer Turnbull was a victim of prospect fatigue and flew mostly under the radar. Zac Houston received some attention thanks to his track record of performance, but most fans have little faith in relief prospects. The most intuitive guess was Christin Stewart, an offensive prospect with power and patience who was given every opportunity to earn full-time reps.
Come the end of the season, the honor was handed to Harold Castro.
The Tigers were without much in the way of infield depth to back up a group that floundered immediately in the majors, and Castro found himself as a beneficiary of the debacle. He was recalled from Triple-A on June 4th and stayed with the big league club for the remainder of the season. Over the course of 97 games, he batted .291/.305/.384.
To be frank, in the context of baseball as a whole, Castro’s debut campaign was not eminently successful. Though he sports a shiny batting average, his performance as a whole was not up to snuff. According to wRC+, the lack of plate discipline or thump manifesting itself in led to an overall offensive showing a whopping 21 percent below average. His hard contact rate registered in the MLB’s 10th percentile and he hit ground balls over half the time. Paired with an average exit velocity in only the 13th percentile and only 10 barreled balls in 282 batted ball events, his flaws are quite clear.
With all of these factors in mind – not to mention negative marks from both fWAR and bWAR – one could quite rightly question the wisdom of handing him a slice of playing time comparable to what he was given in 2019.
An infielder by trade, Castro was moved all around the diamond last year. His speed and flexibility gave the Tigers the ability to plug holes all over their leaky roster with a player who is both defensively capable and fits the pepper-playing offensive style the teams seems to favor. They seem geared to do the same in 2020; he’s listed as an outfielder on the team’s website, but the Tigers have a huge stockpile of outfielders and he’s been playing on the dirt so far this spring.
Of course, the Tigers are going to have to settle for lackluster performances form a sizable portion of their roster, but steps can be taken to minimize the negative impact caused. One such step they could take is reevaluating the role Castro serves going forward.
Detroit’s number one priority during the offseason seemed to be preventative, ensuring that the utter disaster that unfolded in 2019 wouldn’t happen again. Among those moves were planting Niko Goodrum at shortstop and signing Jonathan Schoop to play every day at second base. These are far from the rickety measures taken in years past to patch up the lineup. Goodrum and Schoop should be a more than respectable double-play duo.
They also signed Cameron Maybin to shore up the outfield and seem eager for Victor Reyes to win playing time, moves that come with their own merits and drawbacks. Realistically, though, there’s no reason Castro needs to be playing in every game in the context of the team’s new and improved roster. Barring truly impressive leaps forward in at least one aspect of his offensive game, there are simply better options, even within the organization.
In the end, no one can really blame the Tigers for how they handled Castro in his rookie season. He was never a priority prospect, but he hung around long enough to get an opportunity. He made the best of it while constantly adapting to new positions while almost everyone around him was crumbling. Rewarding his unimpressive numbers consistent playing time in 2020, though, isn’t the course the team should take.