Rumours abound that Rafael Castillo, Reds team MVP-elect, may move to first base next season due to an increasingly clogged outfield.
The Reds front office don’t love Castillo’s outfield defence, by far the worst in the league. A move to left field would nullify his only defensive strength (his cannon arm) and it’s possible that Josh Lowe could force his way into centre field next year, which obviously wouldn’t trouble Castillo but would push Mark Dickey into left field. Dickey is very solid defensively, especially in the corners, and is Castillo’s only real challenger in terms of offensive production.
So there’s no room for their best bat?
Knocking On The Daum
The proverbial door to the starting role in right field has been nearly completely turned to splinters by Mike Daum down in Pensacola. Daum came to Cincinnati from New York in the same trade as Castillo (along with Jordan Lyles, with Wil Myers and Anthony Zych going the other way, which… yikes… it looked much more fair at the time). He tasted MLB action earlier this year with the Yankees, playing the 9th inning in relief of Miguel Velasquez (basically the right-handed Rafael Castillo with more sexual misconduct allegations) in right field against Toronto, and never getting an at bat.
In that game, Daum played opposite Castillo (who played mostly left field in NY – badly) and the Yankees starting pitcher was Jordan Lyles because of course it was, baseball! (I should add, Lyles had a perfectly good lead when he left the game…). Toronto would score two runs in the bottom of the 9th inning to walk off the Yankees, though Mike would want me to point out that both runs were solo homers and no balls in play were hit anywhere near him.
Daum is a much, much better defender than Castillo (than most people, in all honesty) whilst also being good with the bat too so far in his career. He’s by no means a slam-dunk All Star, but with elite speed, great defence, plus power and hit tools and an eye that should avoid most egregious strikeouts, he projects a floor of “MLB Pro mainstay”.
AAA outfield prospect Brandon Soleimani (also a former Yankee prospect) is likewise a superior defender who primarily plays right field, though his bat has been stone cold this year. If he can find it again, he’s in line for a shot at the roster in spring training too. Will Anderson, primarily a corner outfielder forced to play centre, is hanging around (though he doesn’t hit lefties well at all). Jose Ramirez is here, on a three year contract (though very unlikely to see the end of it). Arturo Velasquez is another corner outfielder with elite speed and good defence who, though unspectacular, has done nothing wrong and hits lefties very well.
Therefore unless the NL implements a DH this winter, which the Reds GM has ironically been very outspoken in opposition of throughout his career, the only place for Castillo might be at first base – and there’s no sign he’ll be any better there than he is in the outfield.
Who’s On First?
The incumbent first baseman, rookie Cameron Montgomerie, is arguably a top 5 defensive first baseman in the league, certainly top 10, and although he’s cooled off after a red-hot start offensively, is still hanging around league average and still very competent against right-handers. Plus, we can’t forget that he’s a rookie who had never played above rookie ball prior to this season. A move to first base for Castillo would likely signal the end of Montgomerie’s MLB tenure for now, which would be a shame.
Then, there’s first base prospects to consider. A long-term extension and move to first base would cause a blockage for some of the organisation’s most promising bats. Luis Arellano, now 23, has struggled somewhat to adjust to AA this year but is good defensively and has shown power. Leith Wentzell (who struggled so much at AA that he got demoted back to A-ball but is only 21 and has destroyed that league) is a fearsome bat with extremely dodgy defence. 23 year-old Michael Busch has shown a very solid bat and capable defence at A+ Daytona. There’s also TJ Brey, who is gold-glove capable and a high-character guy, doesn’t have the traditional hitting profile of a first baseman (he’s a low K, plus contact, medium power guy) but can definitely play. Brey’s corner infield partner in crime at A+, Brett Baty, is definitely someone who profiles as a first baseman in future too, he has the potential for excellent power whilst still maintaining decent contact rates. He’s, in truth, a poor third baseman but would be capable at first.
There’s a lot to think about over the offseason, especially with Castillo entering his second year of arbitration. Would a long-term deal make sense for a guy with no real fielding position? But how can you not extend a player on-pace for 46 home runs with a .276 batting average – both team-leading by a mile – at the age of 27? This guy has to be the face of the Reds as they start to come out the other side of their rebuild…