Known primarily for his youth in previous years, shortstop Willi Castro had a breakout 2017 season that helped catapult him to number 9 on our Cleveland Indians 2018 top prospect list.

Castro is a switch-hitting shortstop who has been with the organization since being signed out of the Dominican Republic back in 2013. Still just 20 years old, he has been one of, if not the, youngest players on his team at each level he’s played at. My 26th ranked prospect from a year ago spent all of 2017 at Advanced-A Lynchburg and is listed at 6’1″ and 165 pounds.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Willi Castro has always been more about his potential and athleticism than his numbers in his first three seasons prior to 2017. He was consistent in those three seasons, posting an OPS between .633 and .657 and walk rates between 3.3 and 3.5-percent. However, in 2017 something clicked as he hit .290 with a .761 OPS and 115 wRC+.

While still a very free swinger, he also saw his walk rate jump to 5.5-percent while still keeping his strikeout rate in check. In fact, he struck out just 90 times in 123 games in 2017. Castro also led the Hillcats with 136 this past year, which was also good for second-most in the Carolina League.

While not a slap-hitter, he still hasn’t shown much power though did crack double digits for the first time in his career with 11 this season, which was more home runs than he hit in his previous 236 career games (ten). At this point though, his power would be best described as “gap power” than true home run pop. Perhaps as he fills out (or if?), the power will develop even more.

Castro’s best offensive attribute is likely his speed as he fell just short of his second 20 stolen base season with 19. That speed also helps him in the field where he still shows the potential to stick at shortstop despite some high error totals the last couple years. He has a strong arm that could allow him to move to third if needed although the bat may not play well there. He’s athletic enough to play the outfield should the need arise, potentially even center field.

Where does he go from here?

For a couple years now Willi Castro has been a hard guy to gauge as a prospect. He was one of only four 20-year-olds to appear in 100 or more games in the Carolina League last year and one of only five players in all of Advanced-A to appear in 120 games while being 20 or younger. He’ll finally turn 21 this April but should be in Double-A already as the Indians have pushed him rather aggressively. He was even added to the Tribe’s 40-man roster this fall to avoid being taken in the Rule 5 Draft. He’s a guy the Tribe is high on and clearly doesn’t want to lose and feels can handle any challenge.

That said, his lack of plate discipline, or rather his lack of walks, likely will limit his overall upside as a player. He’s not an elite defender like Francisco Lindor or Jose Ramirez were but he can definitely play up the middle and if he continues to make contact as well as he does he could potentially be a Carlos Baerga type player whose bat-to-ball skills are good enough to make up for lack of walks.

Castro is a player I’ve seen as high as fourth in the Tribe system but also has a bit of a bust factor to him due to the bat. If he’s able to build on his breakout 2017 season, while in Double-A at 21 no less, he could jump not just to a top five spot but potentially a top two or three spot on this list next year. However, if 2017 is more of a mirage and he hits like 2014-2016 going forward, he likely is a utility player…though a potentially good one.

Photo courtesy of Joel Dinda, via Flickr.