#4 Nelson Castro is one of my two favourite Calgary Vipers of all time (the other being fellow speed demon #10 Jorge Tang). By checking out the backs of his MLB prospect cards online, one can summise that the defensive prowess, versatility, and base-running speed he shows right now with the Vipers are the skills that caught the eyes of scouts when he was younger.
The Dominican-born Castro (who now makes his off-season home in Lynn, MA) was signed by the Angels in 1994 where he worked his way up their system to A+ ball in 1998. In 1999 the Giants claimed him off waivers, and Castro spent his time in AA and AAA ball over that period. In 2002, the Red Sox signed him, and in 2003 he was signed, released, and re-signed by the Dodgers. In 2004, the Dodgers released him again, and by 2006 a 30-year old Nelson Castro signed up for Independent Ball with our Calgary Vipers. The MLB’s loss is our gain.
Unless you’re a highly-touted draft-pick, there must be an element of luck in cracking a big league roster. Having watched Castro ply his trade in Vipers silks for three seasons now (and hopefully going on four and more), one has to wonder why he didn’t at least see a little bit of time with a big league club. His versatility alone could have given any NL manager a useful game piece in late innings.
Castro successfully played SS, 2B, 3B, 1B, and OF… and even pitched 1.1 innings in the affiliated minors. That’s a nice resume that I really think was a break or two away from having MLB Experience added to it.
Castro at short, as seen from my cheap red seats
Nelson Castro hasn’t just been a model of efficiency and consistency for the Vipers, he’s statistically improving year-by-year as he reaches the tail end of what most people consider a ballplayer’s prime years.
Over the past three seasons, Castro has improved his AVG, OBP, OPS, SB, and Runs every season*. He’s also taking more walks every year, and last season he cut his strike-outs down from the previous year.
* Castro and the Vipers joined the Golden League from the Northern League between the 2007 and 2008 season.
Let’s look at Castro’s per-three-game numbers (a standard series) over his Vipers career. Over the past three years, Castro has averaged 4.61 Plate Appearances per game, or 13.8 PAs per three-game series. I’ve used the 13.8 PAs per three-game series to normalize Castro’s stats into a table we can use for direct comparisons, season-to-season:
|2006, per 3 games||1.86||3.21||0.84||0.10||0.21||1.57||0.47||0.18||0.69||2.41||0.36|
|2007, per 3 games||1.82||4.05||1.24||0.06||0.13||1.40||0.48||0.19||0.75||2.18||0.26|
|2008, per 3 games||2.61||4.06||0.64||0.08||0.48||2.21||0.64||0.20||1.28||1.93||0.24|
For every stat that would be considered an improvement over the prior year, I’ve highlighted it bold.
The really impressive line here is how Castro hit a lot more home runs (by his standard) in 2008 – yet he struck out a lot less, and walked a lot more than he did in past seasons. One does not often hit significantly more homers while striking out less and walking more (Castro’s OPS improved from 693 to 829 to 923 from 2006 to 2007 to 2008 as well). You can draw a couple of conclusions from the table above: (1) Castro likes seeing Golden League pitching even more than he liked seeing Northern League Pitching, and (2) Castro’s improving his offensive stroke across the board. It’s hard to say how much weight to give each conclusion until we see how much Castro improves his 2008 numbers in 2009, but I’d look for another very solid year.
It’s also worth noting that in 2008, Nelson Castro bested Joe Batter in Runs, Hits, HR, RBI, SB, AVG, OBP, OPS, and BB/K. Not bad for a player who was more regarded for his defense and wheels than his bat, eh?