The 24-year-old hasn’t even played a full season’s worth of MLB games in his young career, but already, it’s been quite the roller coaster ride.
When he first broke into the league in 2019, Castro looked completely overmatched. After dominating Triple-A for most of the season, he hit just .230 with no power and a .624 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) across 30 major league games.
As a result, Castro didn’t begin the shortened 2020 season with the Tigers. But when he got called up in mid-August, he looked like a completely different player. In 36 games, he ran stride-for-stride with Jeimer Candelario as the best two hitters on the team.
Castro finished 2020 with a .349 batting average, .932 OPS and 12 extra-base hits. He began this season batting in the No. 3 spot in the Tigers’ lineup and looked like a valuable asset for years to come.
Everyone expected Castro’s numbers to regress a bit because of his his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) last season. There was definitely some luck baked into his breakout, but overall, he still figured to be an exciting young player.
Instead, the first few weeks of the season were an absolute disaster. Not only was Castro struggling at the plate, he also had to be moved to second base because the shortstop experiment wasn’t working out.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, he can’t play second base, either. To justify keeping him in the lineup, Castro has to hit -- and he’s not.
Castro has always had a volatile profile because of his inability to draw walks. Players who have a strong grasp of the strike zone can get into hitter’s counts, swing at pitches they can do damage against and force pitchers to get them out inside the strike zone.
But Castro hasn’t made any progress in that department. He chases high fastballs above the zone and breaking balls below the zone. Pitchers know they don’t have to worry about walking Castro, so they don’t give him anything to hit, and he gets himself out most of the time.
Right now, Castro is striking out in over one-quarter of his plate appearances and walking in just 5.6% of them. His on-base percentage has dipped to .269 on the season.
He’s showed a little more power, with 11 doubles, four triples and seven home runs, but the net result is a worse player than a year ago. Much worse.
In his last four games, Castro is 0-14 with five strikeouts. He reached base on a hit by pitch and an error, but the at-bats simply haven’t been competitive.
It doesn’t do the Tigers any good to give up on a young player who has already showed some promise. What if he can someday rediscover last year’s contact skills and combine them with this year’s power numbers?
But it doesn’t do them any good to let him flounder at the MLB level, either. His frustration is obvious, and changes need to be made. He’s a negative-0.7 WAR (wins above replacement) player so far this season.
The Tigers have a few replacement options. Isaac Paredes is an obvious choice once he’s completed his injury rehab. Kody Clemens is hitting well in Toledo and could warrant consideration. Maybe it’s as simple as letting Zack Short and Harold Castro play up the middle.
The point is, Willi Castro doesn’t look right. For his sake as much as the team’s, it’s probably time for the Tigers to consider other options.