Willi Castro Is Having A Rob Refsnyder Moment

Photo Credit: Jonathan Hui-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Twins signed veteran utility man Willi Castro to a minor league contract in late December. Bringing in a veteran who can play multiple positions allowed them to flex some depth when the team needed it. At the very least, he is a veteran who they could call up from Triple-A every so often when the Twins really needed him.

But Castro made the Opening Day roster because of Spring Training injuries. There wasn’t much playing time to go around initially, but his ability to play multiple positions kept him on Minnesota’s 26-man roster. In his career, Castro has played 119 games as an outfielder, 113 as a second baseman, 24 at third, and made 99 starts at shortstop. That experience proved to be handy when injuries started to pick off members of the Twins lineup and forced manager Rocco Baldelli to turn to the utility man.

Castro has thrived with increased playing time. In April, Castro recorded a .624 OPS and an 81 wRC+ in 19 games. In May, Castro put up an .824 OPS and a 133 wRC+ in 23 games with the Twins. He hasn’t only been productive at the plate but also on the bases. It’s no coincidence that Minnestota’s stolen base numbers have been more aggressive since Castro has been in the lineup more consistently in the last couple of weeks. Castro has nine stolen bases in 11 attempts this season. One more stolen bag would set his single-season career high for him.

A solid few weeks won’t work his way into Minnesota’s future plans. However, Castro’s production has been an unexpected surprise. The Twins have held prospects like Matt Wallner, Mark Contreras, and even Edouard Julien in the minors in part because Castro has been a veteran option at the positions that they play. Castro’s current 0.6 fWAR mark is on pace to break the 1.3 career-high fWAR that he set in the lockout-shortened 2020 season.

The rise Castro has earned on the Twins roster is unexpected. It feels similar to Rob Refsnyder, another utility role player who came off the bench. Minnesota picked Refsnyder up off of waivers to give the team some extra veteran depth. When he made his Twins debut, Refsnyder was a slightly below-league-average player with a -1.5 fWAR.

Refsnyder became a cult classic for Twins fans in 2021. Slash hitting and nice defensive plays gave them something to watch in an otherwise disappointing season. However, he was never consistently productive. In 2021, he slashed .245/.325/.338 with just one stolen base, two home runs, and a 88 wRC+ mark in 51 games.

Castro has been playing better than expected. Even better than Refsnyder in 2021 before he got injured two years ago. But is this pace sustainable for Castro? Or is he just in the middle of a hot stretch?

It feels like he’s just on a hot stretch. While Castro is on pace for a career year, that isn’t a high bar considering his prior numbers. And some of those volume stats will slow down once more healthy Twins return to the lineup or young prospects continue to establish themselves. Castro’s free-swinging nature is the major flaw in his approach at the plate. His 56 percent career swing rate is around 10 percent higher than the league average. The same goes for his 39.2 percent first-pitch swing rate and 39.4 percent chase rate. Nobody has an issue when things are rolling right. But it’s hard not to notice when things start falling apart

Castro’s 29.5 percent strikeout rate this season is up nearly 10 percent from a season ago. That strikeout rate is also hovering right below his career high, which he set in 2019 when he only played in 30 games as a rookie. His 53.9 percent swing rate is down to a career-low, while his 33.8 percent whiff rate is a career worst.

Another thing to consider is his exit velocity. It’s currently at a career-high 88 MPH, nearly 3 MPH harder than his previous career high in 2021. His 40 percent hard-hit rate is also eight percent higher than his previous career best. That’s not to say his numbers are going to come crashing down. However, he may be currently outperforming his career bests rather than establishing a new standard.

Castro’s success might also be correlated to getting out of Detroit and playing on a better lineup. The Twins have their offensive issues, but their 4.57 runs per game are still league-average compared to his former team. The Detroit Tigers are 28th in baseball with 3.75 runs scored per game.

Castro provides value as a Swiss army knife who Rocco Baldelli can dispense in many ways defensively. He has experience in almost every position. However, he’s not particularly strong in any spot. The top-level sprint speed is there, but his jumps and reads on baseballs in the outfield are one of the worst-graded in baseball. A -7 career Outs Above Average (OAA) isn’t starting caliber. Take out shortstop and center field, two of the most demanding positions on the field, and Castro is an average fielder. Then again, Refsnyder only had a career 1 OAA.

Castro wasn’t meant to have this much of a role on this team. However, he has been a pleasant surprise when given the opportunity. Guys like Refsnyder before him have had their moments, but Castro can make the most of his time. All Castro needs to do is cut down on his swing percentage and run the bases efficiently when he’s on base. There’s a good chance Castro’s fortune will turn. But so long as he’s being productive, the Twins should ride the wave and free Willi.

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