Detroit Tigers: Willi Castro Set to Battle for the Starting Shortstop Position

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - SEPTEMBER 22: Willi Castro #49 of the Detroit Tigers makes a play at shortstop to get out Ryan Jeffers #39 of the Minnesota Twins at first base during the eighth inning of the game at Target Field on September 22, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Twins defeated the Tigers 5-4 in ten innings. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - SEPTEMBER 22: Willi Castro #49 of the Detroit Tigers makes a play at shortstop to get out Ryan Jeffers #39 of the Minnesota Twins at first base during the eighth inning of the game at Target Field on September 22, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Twins defeated the Tigers 5-4 in ten innings. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /
facebooktwitterreddit

Willi Castro, the 22 year-old from Puerto Rico who the Detroit Tigers picked up from Cleveland for Leonys Martin,  only played in 36 games in 2020 but shockingly he did enough damage to be voted fourth for the AL Rookie of the Year award. Castro posted an outstanding slash line of .349/.381/.550, an ISO of .202, and a wRC+ of 151. Castro also ranked fourth on the team with six home runs. Overall, it was an incredible season but is it sustainable moving forward? Let’s take a look.

Contract Status With the Detroit Tigers

Pre-Arb Eligible

Willi Castro’s Game

Castro possess a strong ability to make contact and on paper, he has plus speed. Conversely, he does not hit the ball hard and he strikes out way too much without walking enough. This, along with his inflated .448 BABIP last year, has all signs pointing to regression in 2021.

Regarding his speed, Castro may be fast but so far that has not translated into swipes at the major league level as he has zero steals in two attempts. He did steal ninety-nine bases in the minors but the fact he was thrown out forty-one times suggests he has poor base running instincts. The fact the Tigers have only given him the green light two times back this up as well.

Defensively, it is debatable whether or not Castro will ever be a serviceable major league shortstop. In fifty-four MLB games Castro has nine errors with most of them being poor throws across the diamond. According to Fangraphs Castro’s Total Defensive Runs Saved (DRS aka Fielding Bible), is negative ten over his short career. Yes, this is a very small sample size but there is no doubt Castro will need to demonstrate he has improved defensively this off-season or he will not stay the starter for long.

ZiPS Projections

Over 605 plate appearances in 2021, ZiPS projects Castro will slash .277/.322./437 with sixteen home runs, 73 runs, 72 RBIs along with ten stolen bases. ZiPS definitely recognizes his poor plate discipline as he’s projected for 140 strikeouts and only thirty-three walks.

My Take on Willi Castro

Unfortunately, I do not believe Castro has the contact skills of Tony Gwynn so no, his 2020 offensive production is not fully sustainable. However, Castro deserves to start because of what he accomplished in 2020 and, at his young age, he still has time to improve his fielding and plate discipline. With all that said, Castro definitely played over his head and I am not sure if he is a major league shortstop in the long run.

Looking at his ZiPS projections, I will be very surprised if he hits sixteen home runs. Based on his Statcast data, and the fact MLB is changing to a “dead” ball, I project Castro somewhere around ten home runs. The .277 is average is fair but I think there is a good chance he hits closer to .250.

Going into Spring Training, Detroit Tigers new manager, A.J. Hinch, said he is “pretty excited” to see Castro at shortstop and initially he will get the majority of reps with Niko Goodrum right behind him.

At the end of the day, we know exactly what Niko Goodrum is, he is a superb fielder who has some pop and speed but he is going to strikeout thirty percent of the time, struggle to get on-base and hit somewhere around .240. In other words, he is not irreplaceable and it’s possible he will be forced to play another position if any injuries arise. Although it is a long shot, Castro has the upside to hit somewhere around .280 over a full season with near double digit swipes and home runs. How much Castro improved his defense in the off-season will ultimately determine if he sticks around in the starting lineup.