Ivan Castillo has had a terrific season in Amarillo and the late–blooming second baseman could eventually be a factor for the San Diego Padres.
On May 5, Jorge Ona joined the injured list for what was later discovered to be a shoulder injury.
Ona was easily the Sod Poodles hottest hitter at the time and quite possibly the best hitter in the entire Texas League. He was slashing .348/.417/.539/.957 before the injury struck the breakout star ending his 2019 season.
His average led the Texas League which meant the Sod Poodles would have a big hole in the lineup. Adding the presence of Rodrigo Orozco helped. Orozco was hitting .321 at the time, only being with the team less than two weeks since he was acquired for Socrates Brito at the beginning of April. Orozco and Ona were the only two hitters north of the .300 mark in terms of average, with the closest hitter sitting at .275 in catcher Webster Rivas.
Enter Ivan Castillo.
As the saying goes, “everything is bigger in Texas,” including this Sod Poodle’s team batting average which sits at .337 on the season. That average is higher by .031 points than anyone in the Texas League and leads the entire level of Double-A baseball. Castillo has dominated the hit column since arriving with the team in early May, only failing to reach base ten times in 72 games this season. He has put together a hitting streak of nine or more games in every month that he has played in 2019. Among those streaks are stretches of nine, 14, and 19 consecutive games recording at least one hit. One of the more impressive points about Castillo’s season is that his average is sitting at .337 despite not recording a four-hit game. Castillo has racked up 34 multi-hit games this season, meaning 48% of all of the games he has played this season have resulted in a multiple-hit game.
Unlike most of the Amarillo roster, Castillo was not an in-house prospect, and it’s almost hard to call the 24-year-old a prospect. The Padres are actually the third organization of his career. The infielder spent four seasons across five levels in the Indians organization, reaching as high as Triple-A before being selected in the Rule 5 Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays. The Dominican Republic native would tie current Sod Poodle teammate Rodrigo Orozco for the summer league batting title, having the best season of his career to that point in 2018. Castillo spent an entire season at one level in the Blue Jays’ system, and took advantage of the stability and hit .304 in 108 games. He would elect for free agency and sign a minor league deal with the San Diego Padres and be assigned to Double-A Amarillo.
We can see that Castillo has done a great job putting the ball in play, as he is seventh in hits in the Texas League, despite playing at least 19 games less than the others ahead of him in that category. We’re going take a closer look at not what he is doing, but how he has done it. While his ground ball percentage has always been high (43.9 % in 2018), he has managed to cut that number, and his flyball rate (2018: 35.2) a little, and has turned them into line drives (26.7%, up a total of 5.8% from 2018).
Now that we’ve seen how he is putting the ball in play, it’s time to look at where he is putting the ball. Not unlike teammate Owen Miller, Castillo’s ability to spread the ball to all fields makes it almost impossible to shift on him. The Texas League leader has a career-low pull-percentage at 39.8%, while his opposite-field percentage has dropped by nine percentage points on its own (38.5% to 29.5%). What exactly does this mean? Those percentage points have to go somewhere, and that place is the middle of the field. The stat that has stood out the most to me in 2019 is Castillo’s 11.7% increase of balls hit to the middle of the field, a number that he hasn’t been close to hitting since first arriving in Double-A for the Indians in 2016. Despite not walking a lot (4.0% in 2019) the Padres prospect doesn’t strike out much either. Castillo’s strikeout rate is in the top five in the Texas League at 14.5%, and his swinging strike rate is even better only swinging and missing about 7.6% which is sixth in the league.
“I’ve been working on the walks since last year. I’m not a guy that walks a lot but that is one of the biggest things that I’m still working on, because I know that is a key for me to get to the next level.” Ivan Castillo
Castillo’s 2019 outbreak and overall game are similar to that of Major League Baseball’s most underrated star in Whit Merrifield. While he is shaped more like Jose Altuve, he fits more of the play style of Merrifield because they are not locked into a single position. Merrifield, a 2019 American League All-Star, was a late bloomer, which is what the Padres hope Castillo can be. The Royals’ second basemen didn’t make his major league debut until he was 27 years old and, after finding his footing in his first season, Merrifield has become a very good player no matter where he has played.
Castillo and Merrifield are throwback players in a league where everyone is obsessed with home run numbers and velocity. These two players just flat-out get hits in an age where the .300 hitter could be a thing of the past with the recent trends. With Miller and Hudson Potts having to play second base at least once a week, Castillo fills in wherever he is needed that day even if it’s not his natural position of shortstop. The Padres prospect has played six positions (seven if you include designated hitter) this season. We’ve seen this in the past with players like Marwin Gonzalez, Ben Zobrist, and Chris Taylor. Every one of those players was vital in playoff runs that all finished in the World Series because whether it’s a starter in the pen. With a season like this, with defensive flexibility, and an average that high, you can’t help but wonder how much longer Ivan Castillo will remain in Amarillo.