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International Free Agent Profile: Rusney Castillo

Rusney Castillo, a talented Cuban outfielder, recently defected and has been granted his free agency by MLB. Should the Mets look into signing the 27-year-old center fielder?

Rusney Castillo
Rusney Castillo
Dennis Grombkowski

Rusney Castillo Peraza was born June 8, 1987, in Cuba's central province of Ciego de Ávila. He grew into an athletic 5'9" frame and showed enough skill on the baseball-crazy island to land a spot on Los Tigres, the nickname for Ciego de Ávila's team in La Serie Nacional. In his first two years with the team, he received only limited playing time, getting into only 28 games in his rookie year and 44 in his sophomore year. With the departure of center fielder/right fielder Ricardo Bordon after the 49th Serie Nacional (2009-2010), the right-hander got a major boost in playing time, and he made the most of the opportunity, not only seizing a starting position in the outfield, but becoming one of the better hitters on the Ciego de Ávila team.

Around the same time, he came into prominence on the Cuban National Baseball Team. Previously blocked by talents such as Yoenis Cespedes and Leonys Martin, the burgeoning talent soon found himself starting for the team in international contests with their defections. He handled himself well in various competitions; he hit .512/.524/.854 in the 2011 Baseball World Cup, .333 during the 2012 Haarlem Baseball Week, .273/.333/.318 in the 2011 Pan American Games, among other competitions.

Though he was on the provisional roster, Castillo was left off of the final roster of the Cuban National Team in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, replaced by 22-year-old Guillermo Heredia in center field instead. This came on the heels of a suspension for a "violation of the code of ethics of revolutionary baseball". What was his infraction? While we don't exactly know, odds are, he attempted to flee the country and defect, but was discovered. According to the Havana Times, "a pattern has developed especially over the last decade whereby Cuban baseball stars and top prospects attempt to leave the island illegally and are caught and suspended from playing in the Cuban league. With no choice left to them to continue in their profession, they then succeed at a future attempt escaping to a neighboring country." Sure enough, Castillo attempted to leave the island once more, and was successful.

In early June, he was granted official free agent status by the MLB after establishing permanent residency in the Dominican Republic and being unblocked by the U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control. He selected Roc Nation Sports, notably headed by rapper Jay-Z, as his representation, and is set to begin hosting showcases in front of other teams shortly, as soon as a broken finger that he has been nursing is fully healed. He had previously worked out exclusively in front of Dodgers scouts, but their interest at this point in time remains unknown.

2008-2009 (48th SNdB) 22 28 43 .349 .417 .465 0 4 10 0/2
2009-2010 (49th SNdB) 23 44 99 .303 .333 .404 2 2 19 2/6
2010-2011 (50th SNdB) 24 107 441 .320 .369 .553 22 21 53 32/39
2011-2012 (51st SNdB) 25 113 448 .342 .408 .574 21 41 49 27/34
2012-2013 (52nd SNdB) 26 68 234 .274 .377 .393 6 31 29 15/24


According to Baseball America's Ben Badler, "His best tool is his speed, as he's an above-average runner and one of the better base stealers in Cuba. More of a doubles hitter than a big home run threat, Castillo puts a charge into the ball with a line drive right-handed swing, though he can get long to the ball at times and some scouts think he's prone to chasing pitches off the plate."

Castillo is an outfielder by trade, spending most of his time in Cuba patrolling center field. He began his baseball career as an infielder, playing second and third base, but when he was finally getting regular playing time with Ciego de Ávila, it was in the outfield. His natural tools simply play up better there- his plus speed allows him to cover a lot of ground, and his arm is solid enough to keep runners honest.

Scouts differ as to how much of an impact the right-hander might have in MLB. Because of the mechanics of his swing and his tendencies at the plate, coupled by the fact that his career batting line in La Serie Nacional isn't exactly as impressive as it might seem because of the inflated offensive environment that exists in Cuba, some see him as a fourth outfielder, or a starter on a second division team.Still, others are more optimistic- Jon Heyman, for example, recently called Castillo an impact player, saying he was "Brett Gardner with more power". Still, as Ben Badler notes, teams are eager to see Castillo work out, as the possibility of adding an MLB-ready prospect without any catch other than money is too good to pass up.

Does he make sense for the Mets?

The first question is: How much might the right-hander cost? Fellow Cuban outfielder Daniel Carbonell signed with the San Fransisco Giants on June 16, inking a four-year, $1.4 million deal with a $1 million signing bonus. Unlike Castillo, the 23-year-old Carbonell is more projection than anything else, possessing plus speed and a decent arm, but not too much else. Carbonell will also be assigned to one of the Giants' minor league affiliates for the 2014 season, and likely beyond; Rusney Castillo is as close enough to a finished product as you're going to get from Cuban defectors, and can theoretically have an impact on the 2014 season once signed- though, given the amount of time since he last played a professional game, some tuning up in the minor leagues is certainly necessary. As a result, he will make more money than the Giants' new farmhand.

Other Cuban outfielders may present better gauges as to what Castillo might get. Leonys Martin, 23 at the time, inked a five-year, $15.5 million contract with the Texas Rangers in May 2011 and spent the better part of two years in their developmental system. Yoenis Cespedes, 26 at the time, inked a four-year, $36 million contract with the Oakland Athletics in February 2012, and immediately made the MLB team. Jorge Soler, 20 at the time, inked a nine-year, $30 million contract with the Chicago Cubs in June 2012, and has yet to debut in MLB. Yasiel Puig, 21 at the time, inked a seven-year, $42 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers in June 2012, and spent roughly a calendar year in their developmental system. Dariel Alvarez, 24 at the time, inked a deal worth $800,000 with the Baltimore Orioles in July 2013, and has yet to debut in MLB. Of that group, Rusney Castillo most closely resembles Leonys Martin- a centerfielder with plus speed, a good glove, and a light bat. He does not have the overall talent that Cespedes, Soler, and Puig possess, but seems a more overall complete player than Alvarez.

Assuming the Cuban center fielder can be signed for a total sum in the range of $20-$40 million dollars, for anywhere between three and five years, is he a fit with the Mets? Juan Lagares and Curtis Granderson can reasonably be penciled in for center field and one of the corner positions (most likely right field), so the other corner position is where Castillo might be slotted in. Currently, the Mets' most likely internal options include Eric Young Jr., Kirk Nieuwinhuis, Andrew Brown, and Cesar Puello. Does Castillo represent a clear-cut upgrade over those players? And, if he does, would it be enough of an upgrade to justify the money being spent?