Center of attention: Sox get their guy in Castillo

Center of attention: Sox get their guy in Castillo
August 23, 2014, 7:00 pm
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(AP Photo)

BOSTON - The Red Sox had just lost their seventh game in a row - all at Fenway Park - but if that was still on anybody's mind after the game, they haven't taken a look at the standings this year.

The only thing useful about the rest of this season is building towards next season, and the Red Sox took a huge step in that direction on Saturday.

The team officially signed Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo to a seven-year, $72 million contract. The center-fielder looks to join the Red Sox in September and start in center field at the beginning of the 2015 season.

With his wife and agent sitting in the front row, Castillo was formally introduced by Red Sox GM Ben Cherington moments after the game ended.

"We're certainly really excited about this signing," Cherington said. "We've gotten a chance to get to know Rusney a lot over the last several weeks. Before that we had seen him play I think first in Amsterdam in 2011 and then again in Taiwan in 2012. Then of course over the last several weeks since he's been in Florida we've gotten a chance to get to know him even better.

"This is an exciting player. He's got a great combination of skills, offensive ability, speed, solid power. He's got a really strong track record in Cuba. We're excited to add him to the organization. We feel like he can be a big part of wining Red Sox teams here for a long time."

Castillo was sought after at one point by almost every Major League team, but the sweepstakes came down to just a couple, reportedly the Sox and Tigers. Cherington was very mum on the process when he spoke with media earlier this week. That's because he really didn't know where the team stood in terms of signing Castillo.

"There was obviously a number of teams involved, and I felt like it was a very competitive but very professional process," Cherington said. "I can only speak for the Red Sox, but I felt like we were given every opportunity to make the offers that we felt like we needed to make and had a good sense for what we needed to do to sign him. I didn't feel like we were going to be able to sign him until we were getting a flight for him."

They got the flight. Castillo was at Fenway Park bright and early on Saturday. He met his new teammates and new manager, and even kicked it with RocNation family member Robinson Cano across the field.

Castillo then signed autographs for young fans lucky enough to get into Fenway before the general public. Soon enough, they'll watch him patrol the outfield at Fenway Park.

"He's a center fielder," Cherington said. "He's got, as I said before, he's got a lot of skills; we think he has a chance to impact the game in a number of different ways. He runs well, he's got good solid average, solid throwing am, solid track record, he can play defense, good offensive track record in Cuba and in international play. So we see him as a very good major league player and part of a wining team here in Boston."

Castillo, 27, hit .319 with 75 doubles, 11 triples, 51 home runs, 99 walk, 256 runs, and 76 stolen bases in 360 games over five seasons in Cuba's major league, Serie Nacional.

While it's obviously hard to take those numbers and apply them to the Major League level, the fact that Cuban players have recently made the seamless transition helps. Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig, and Jose Abreu are three Cubans who are having plenty of success in the majors. The hope is that everybody will be saying the same about Castillo. Based on what the team's scouts and front office staff have seen and researched, they're confident that will be the case.

"Obviously the visual evaluation," Cherington said, "the subjective evaluation which we've been doing more intensely over the last several weeks. But before that too, this is someone that we had identified and recognized in Cuba and in international play. So we've had several scouts see him over a number of years, and build some history that way. So you can recognize the bat speed, the swing path, the power, the ball comes off his bat really well, etc. And we have spent quite a bit of time sort of mining whatever data is available to us, performance data and we feel like we are getting more and more precise in our ability to translate that and figure out what it means.

"Obviously there have been other examples of mature, high-profile guys coming out of Cuba. We've seen what those transitions look like. So based on all that, we put it all together and were able to make an assessment of what we think we could be. And obviously given the commitment we think he can be a really good player for us for a long time."

Castillo will get a chance to prove his worth very soon. Until then, he's just thankful for this day.

"It really means a lot for me to be a part of such an historic organization and I'm just ecstatic to be here," he said through his translator, Adrian Lorenzo.

Rusney hasn't played organized baseball since the 2012-13 season, when he hit .274 with six home runs and 29 RBI over 68 games. That clearly didn't faze the Sox, and it doesn't sound like it matters much to him, either.

"To me at this point it's not so much the time missed, because even though I have missed a year-and-a-half of games I've been training every day," Castillo said. "To me, that's what's gotten me most prepared on a day-to-day basis."

He may be prepared based on his training regime, but the Sox are going to put him on theirs now.

Castillo is off to Florida where the team hopes to get him to Ft. Myers in the coming days. After getting him a work visa as soon as possible, they will look to get him into some minor league action. If all goes to plan, Castillo will be back with the Red Sox sometime in September where he'll play center field.