This is the first of a series in which PittsburghBaseballNow.com writers pick what they feel will be the Pittsburgh Pirates’ most interesting storyline of spring training.
Rodolfo Castro finished last season as the Pittsburgh Pirates’ primary second baseman.
However, that doesn’t mean he can just phone it in during spring training and expect to be in the starting lineup when the Pirates open the season on March 30 against the Reds in Cincinnati.
“There’s going to be competition at second base,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “At second base, we do not have a ‘hey, this guy is going to be the starter.’”
Ji-Hwan Bae and Tucupita Marcano are both likely to have a chance to win the second base job in camp, which opens next Tuesday when pitchers and catchers report to Bradenton.
Castro, 23, batted .233/.299/.427 with 11 home runs and five stolen bases in 71 games for the Pirates last season. That came after he hit .198/.258/.395 with five homers in 31 games as a rookie in 2021.
Last year, Castro made just 28 of his 68 starts at second base. He also had 21 starts at third base, 17 at shortstop and two as the designated hitter.
However, he settled in primarily at second base late in the season after being recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis on Aug. 9 for his second stint of the year with the Pirates. Of his last 23 starts, 17 were at the keystone.
Castro hit .247/.310/.478 with 10 homers in 50 games upon his return from the minor leagues.
Of course, Castro is most remembered for a cell phone falling out of his pocket when he slid into third base during his first game back. That came against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix and resulted in a one-game suspension from Major League Baseball for having an electronic device on the field.
However, Castro’s play – especially the power he displayed – made a much bigger impression on Shelton.
“Rudy did a really nice job especially in August and September when he came up and I think as much as anybody because of some of the things he went through last year we really saw him grow up,” Shelton said.
Castro’s best position last season was third base in terms of defensive metrics. He had four defensive runs saved at that position and minus-1 at both second base and shortstop.
However, Castro showed above average range at second base. The banning of defensive shifts should also make second base easier to play this season.
Castro’s stiffest challenge could come from Bae. The speedy infielder from South Korea could also benefit from rule changes designed to add more stolen bases – limited pickoff throws by pitchers and larger bases.
Bae, who is also 23, stole 30 bases in 38 attempts last year for Indianapolis. He also slashed .289/.362/.430 with eight home runs.
In a 10-game stint with the Pittsburgh Pirates at the end of the season, the left-handed hitter impressed. Bae hit .333/.405/.424 while being successful on all three stolen base attempts.
Bae made 53 of his 105 starts with Indianapolis at second base. With the Pirates, he started four times each at second base and center field and once in left field.
Another 23-year-old, Marcano had an unimpressive rookie season with the Pirates in 2022. He hit just .206/.256/.306 with two home runs and two stolen bases.
The Pirates like his athleticism, though, and how he performed in the minor leagues. In a combined 57 games with Indianapolis and Double-A Altoona, Marcano batted .291/.388/.443 with five homers and five steals.
The .388 on-base percentage stood out to the Pirates, who were 28th in the major leagues in that category last season with a .291 mark.