Ask Pirates fans which prospect should make the Opening Day roster and most would say Oneil Cruz, and rightfully so. Cruz is considered the Pirates top prospect by many and has star potential written all over him. We’ve seen that potential this spring with long homeruns and hard it balls.
There’s definitely a case for Cruz to break camp with the Pirates, but he’s not the only infield prospect who has earned that opportunity. Diego Castillo has carried over his strong 2021 into a strong spring training and has put pressure on the Bucs to crack the Opening Day roster.
Castillo was acquired from the Yankees just prior to last year’s trade deadline along with Hoy Park in exchange for Clay Holmes. Park already made his debut in Pittsburgh, and it might be time Castillo does too. It was a bit of revenge on Sunday for Castillo as he homered the other way off his former team’s ace Gerrit Cole.
So far this spring, Castillo has five hits in 15 at-bats, including the home run. He’s picked up three RBIs and has walked twice. Between the Pirates and Yankees last season, Castillo slashed .278/.355/.487 with 24 doubles, 19 homeruns and nine steals. His power took a big step forward and really became a big part of his game, helping Castillo reach Triple-A by season’s end.
Castillo offers a professional approach at the plate and doesn’t strikeout much. Last year, he struck out just 56 times in 440 plate appearances (12.7%) and drew 44 walks. He had more walks (23) than strikeouts (22) in 47 games with the Pirates between Altoona and Indianapolis.
Defensively, Castillo is a versatile infielder, playing the majority of his time at shortstop and has also played second throughout his career. Last season, he began playing some third base, giving the Bucs some extra versatility when needed, though he fares better at second or third.
The third base job (Ke’Bryan Hayes) and shortstop (Cruz/Kevin Newman/Cole Tucker) are both already secured. Second base is still presumably open. Tucker could start there, but he may be better served in a super-utility role. Michael Chavis hasn’t been great so far this spring and like Tucker should probably see a utility role. The start of Park’s spring was delayed and he hasn’t emerged as a leader for the job either. There’s a strong case to be made that second base could be Castillo’s.
The Pirates have an opportunity to do something exciting, and that’s place a part of the club’s future up the middle with Cruz and Castillo as Opening Day double play partners. This isn’t just the case to create some level of excitement with the fans, even though surely it would. But both players have earned the chance to make that a reality.