It seems like, with increasing rapidity, the top players in Cuba are defecting from the island in the hopes of making their way to a professional career in MLB. What may have started (in recent years) with Aroldis Chapman, Yoenis Cespedes, Jorge Soler, and Yasiel Puig, is now continuing rapidly with Jose Abreu, Miguel Gonzalez, Raicel Iglesias, and Erisbel Arruebarruena, among others.*
Now, Baseball America’s Ben Badler reports that another top Cuban has defected with the intention of coming to the United States as soon as possible: 26-year-old outfielder Rusney Castillo.
Badler’s piece has a short scouting report on Castillo, who can play center field, second base, and third base. He’s a shorter guy with speed and a little bit of pop, and he’s put up solid numbers in Cuba’s highest professional league, though it sounds like some teams aren’t sure that he’s a starter in the big leagues.
Given the Cubs’ current outfield construction – a mix of Junior Lake, Ryan Sweeney, Nate Schierholtz, Justin Ruggiano, and a 5th outfielder – it’s easy to see how they might get involved in a 26-year-old with some upside. Castillo would not be subject to any signing restrictions, and arguably would not block any of the Cubs’ top upcoming outfield prospects, who figure to be at least a couple years away (in other words, that falls into the “you cross that bridge when you come to it” world of problems).
Given the Cubs’ slow-play approach to the offseason, and their rebuilding-oriented focus, Castillo becoming available in February or March could play into their hands, given that other suitors might have long already locked up their cash and/or positions. That’s not to say there’s any indication yet that the Cubs are interested, but a later-arriving free agent is probably better for them than one who was on the market in November.
As Castillo’s situation plays out over the course of the next few months, we’ll keep an eye on whether the Cubs prove to be interested.
*(Partial aside: while I won’t presume to know, at a global scale, the relative baseball talent between Cuba and the Dominican Republic, consider the implications if a new Dominican Republic-caliber pool of baseball talent appeared from the ether. It’s difficult to appropriately articulate the impact on MLB team development/creation, and it’s a interesting thought experiment as we enter this phase of more and more apparent Cuban defections. Are the Cubs poised to take advantage of this market? Should that be the heaviest focus of available dollars?)