Willi Castro is having a big year thus far in 2019.
The shortstop, who sits at number 13 on Dave Eddy’s 2019 Tigers Top 50 Prospects (he’s seven on the MLB Pipeline Top 30 Tigers Prospect list), is hitting .322 with an .855 OPS through May 12 with Triple-A Toledo. However, he is not just playing bigger on the field, he is also physically bigger. According to the weight listings in the media guides to start the season, Castro gained 40 pounds between the start of 2018 and the start of the 2019 campaign going from 165 pounds to 205. While he might not have gained all of that weight, because those listings don’t tend to be entirely accurate, the 22-year-old has made bulking up a priority.
“They told me last year, that I need to gain some weight if I want to play a lot of games,” Castro said. “I live in the Dominican (Republic), and I think that was my mentality. I would just try to work out with a lot of my friends to try to gain a little bit of weight, and come ready for Spring Training. That is what I did and they told me I had a really good weight.”
Castro, who was part of the Leonys Martin trade from the Tigers to the Indians at the deadline last season, has caught the attention of his hitting coach, Mike Hessman with this hard work as well. Hessman, who worked with Castro for 26 games last year in Double-A before he was promoted, said that he took the trade in stride and did not let him impact him in any way. He said that the thing that stood out the most following the trade was the maturity that the young Castro took the deal with. He also noticed the positive changes in Castro from the off season that he has brought to the field in 2019.
“He came into Spring Training strong,” Hessman said. “He looks good and his work ethic is unbelievable. He really knows how to go about his business and get himself ready to play every day. He is a guy who always wants to be in the lineup. It is fun to watch him play and do his work. He has done great and with his work ethic, you don’t really have to worry about him.”
As far as the getting ready day-to-day, Castro credits keeping in a routine each day. He said that this routine is simple, as he tries to swing at good pitches and take the ball back up the middle. As a switch hitter, keeping a routine is a bit more difficult to stay refined at both sides of the plate. Castro takes this completely in stride though.
With an aggressive approach at the plate, Castro is ready to jump on any pitch in any count. With this, he walked just 62 times in 1,055 plate appearances between 2017 and 2018. However, he has also only struck out 204 times for just about 20 percent. Castro has also stolen 37 bases over those two campaigns. Needless to say, the walk totals are not ideal for a guy who has a lot of speed, but he is consistently putting the bat on the ball. This season, Castro has walked 15 times in 138 plate appearances. Regardless, the approach has done Castro well and he views this as something he prides himself on.
“Every hitting coach says to be ready on every pitch,” Castro said. “When you get the best pitch, try to hit it. The pitch you miss could be the best pitch you are going to see in the game. You just have to be ready for the pitch that you can hit into the gap.”
Growing up in Puerto Rico, Castro always looked up to another aggressive hitter at the dish in Jose Reyes. Castro modeled his game after the long-time big league shortstop, and is using his career as a blueprint. Additionally, he also was able to spend time with his fellow countryman Francisco Lindor while with the Indians. Lindor is another aggressive hitter at the plate, who also rubbed off on him.
“”I learned a lot from them when I was with the Cleveland Indians last year,” Castro said. “Francisco Lindor is a really good shortstop and I learned a lot. He is a really good hitter and I think one day, I could be up there with them.”
If he continues the path that he is on, Castro will be in the big leagues with Lindor in the same division before the season is out. Only time will tell if he follows in the same footsteps of the Puerto Rican legend.
Ryan Palencer is a lifelong baseball fan who covers the Triple-A International League upper level MiLB prospects. He is located in Indianapolis, which features the AAA Indians. Ryan has covered Minor League, Major League, and All-Star games with Pirates Prospects prior to joining Prospects1500. Follow him on Twitter @RyanPalencer.