Pittsburgh Pirates: Diego Castillo Hitting His Way to Second Base Job

BRADENTON, FLORIDA - MARCH 16: Diego Castillo #64 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a picture during the 2022 Photo Day at LECOM Park on March 16, 2022 in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
BRADENTON, FLORIDA - MARCH 16: Diego Castillo #64 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a picture during the 2022 Photo Day at LECOM Park on March 16, 2022 in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images) /

Pittsburgh Pirates infield prospect Diego Castillo has had a great Spring Training so far, but has it been enough to earn him the starting second base job?

Going into Spring Training second base was pretty much an open position for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Former Boston Red Sox infield prospect Michael Chavis seemed to have an inside track on the position but far from anything remotely guaranteed.

Another infield prospect the Pittsburgh Pirates acquired at the trade deadline by the name of Diego Castillo was one of the many players in the running to open the season as the team’s starting second baseman. He’s been one of the most productive players this spring for the Pirates and arguably has earned the starting job to start the season.

Castillo had an extremely productive year at the plate. He spent most of his season with the New York Yankees and Pirate Double-A affiliates but made a 70 plate appearance cameo at Triple-A Indianapolis at the end of the season. Between these three teams, Castillo batted .278/.355/.478 with a .366 wOBA and 128 wRC+.

Castillo’s power output was unprecedented for him. He hit 19 home runs with a .209 isolated slugging percentage and slugging percentage approaching .500. From 2015 through 2019, he had just nine career home runs.

Castillo can thank his massive change in batted ball rates for his increased productivity at the plate. He was a heavy, ground ball batter who had a 48% ground ball rate before 2021. But this past season, he cut that down by nearly 10%, down to 38.2%. This led to a massive increase in fly ball rate (33% to 41.2%) and a slight uptick in line-drive rate (19% to 20.6%).

The prospect’s main calling card pre-2021 was his ability to avoid strikeouts, which wasn’t affected by his increased power output. Castillo had just a 12.7% strikeout rate. Another positive is that he upped his walk rate significantly, from just 6.4% to 10%. He’s become a well-rounded hitter between his strong ability to make contact and now increasing power output and plate patience. His defense up the middle is solid and should work fine at second base.

So far thus spring Castillo only has 21 plate appearances to his name, but he’s tied with Cole Tucker for the team lead in hits with 7, leads the team in home runs with 3, and is second to just Greg Allen in OPS at 1.271 (min. 10 PAs). Not only that, but Chavis has struggled with a .364 OPS and two hits this spring. He’s outlasted every wave of cuts so far, including Roansy Contreras and recently Oneil Cruz. So is there anything standing between Castillo and the starting job at second base this year?

Well, there is one player that I just mentioned, that being Cole Tucker. Tucker is also having a phenomenal spring, having a 1.056 OPS so far with two home runs. Tucker did just enough to keep his 40-man roster spot for now. He hit .256/.320/.400, resulting in a .312 wOBA and 92 wRC+ throughout the last month of playing time.

The other prospect who came along with Castillo also has a chance at playing time up the middle. That’s Hoy Park. Park was phenomenal with the Yankee Triple-A affiliate and was a great hitter throughout the last half-month-plus of 2021. Park hit .256/.411/.442 with a .366 wOBA, and 130 wRC+. He’s also done great through Spring Training, posting a 1.042 OPS with two home runs.

But both Park and Tucker can move around the infield and outfield. Castillo is primarily a second baseman who has seen time at shortstop and third base. I get that some might claim that he won’t make it for service time reasons, like Cruz, but Castillo is already 24 and had over 40 more plate appearances at Triple-A than Cruz. Plus he’s not nearly on the same level as Cruz.

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Castillo has done plenty to earn the starting second base job from the outset of Spring Training with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Even with his competitors also doing well, Castillo’s massive improvements from 2021 seem to be appearing this year in Bradenton. In my eyes, his Spring Training is just what he needed to jump into the starting role.