Tigers encouraged but jury still out on Willi Castro being everyday shortstop in 2020
Chicago — It wasn’t like the Tigers expected Willi Castro to win the 2020 shortstop job with a 30-some game audition in September. And he didn’t.
More importantly, though, he didn’t lose it, either.
“He’s shown pretty good,” manager Ron Gardenhire said Saturday. “I think he’s handled himself pretty good up here and I think he’s very talented. Whether he’s ready to do this every day, he’s going to get a chance in spring training to show that.
“He has to go out and play and win the job.”
The Tigers last offseason declared that Grayson Greiner would be their regular catcher after playing just 30 games in 2018. So, giving Castro the shortstop job in 2020 wouldn’t be unprecedented.
But the Tigers could decide to add a veteran shortstop through free agency, as they did this season with Jordy Mercer. Also, there’s been some talk that Castro’s every day position could end up being second base.
“Right now we’re just doing the shortstop thing,” Gardenhire said. “If it doesn’t look like he’s going to be able to make it, then we can switch him over. This is too small a sample for me to make a decision. We’ll get to spring training.
“We’re giving him stuff he needs to work on. (Infield coach Ramon) Santiago is showing him everything. If he comes to spring training and he’s able to make some of these adjustments, then he will have a better chance of starting in the big leagues.”
Castro’s bat isn’t a concern. After a slow start, he's hitting .242 with a .649 OPS and he's recently caught fire. In his last 13 games, he’s hit .310 (13-for-42) with a .500 slugging percentage and .870 OPS.
The questions are on the defensive end.
“He’s made some errors and it’s mechanical things, it really is,” Gardenhire said. “It’s technique. He needs to get straightened out a little bit on that. He slides through too many balls.”
Santiago, who worked diligently with Castro during spring training and was one of the loudest proponents of the Tigers promoting him from Triple-A, agreed.
“He has good range, but he's got to be working at centering the ball more, like catching the ball more in the center of the body,” Santiago said. “Sometimes he catches the ball on the right side of his body too much. We are working on that."
Castro also has had trouble fielding balls hit up the middle and to his glove side. In 237 innings (before play Saturday), Castro made four errors and was a minus-4 in defensive runs saved.
"There are some things he needs to work on in the offseason, but I think he's played OK since coming up here,” Santiago said. “He just needs to keep improving. He's a young guy, 22 years old. It's not easy to come to the big leagues and produce right away at a high level. It takes time.
“He will adjust. He's a smart kid."
Both Gardenhire and Santiago have been after Castro to use a bigger glove.
“He has what is typically a second baseman's glove,” Santiago said. “A shortstop needs a little more reach. You go to make a play and the glove is so short, maybe you miss that play by an inch. This is a game of inches, right? Every inch you can get is an advantage. He needs a little bigger glove."
Castro has been using an 11½-inch glove. Santiago said the standard shortstop glove is 11¾ inches.
“It’s not that big a difference,” Santiago said. “He won’t feel it that much.”
Castro plans to play winter ball for Escogido in the Dominican again this year and Santiago is planning on being there with him, for at least 10 days in October.
"So far we are going to give him the benefit of the doubt and let him at least try to win the shortstop job,” Santiago said. “We have to give it time and see if he gets better. He's 22 and he has some talent."
Work in progress
Gardenhire reiterated Saturday that he plans to return to manage the Tigers in 2020, the third and final season on his current contract — but offered the same caveat.
“We haven’t finalized anything but we’re working with the coaches trying to get all these guys taken care of,” he said. “I have a contract. We will talk at the end of this thing. Al (Avila, general manager) said he’ll call me.
“He wants me to go to meetings during the winter so I think he wants me back.”
Avila has said that publicly. But the coaches on Gardenhire’s staff were given two-year contracts before 2018.
“We’ve not locked in any of that,” Gardenhire said. “It’s a work in progress, believe me. It really is. We’ve already had conversations about everything and we’re not announcing anything until the season is over.
“And Al will make those announcements.”