The Red Sox have reportedly reached an agreement with Cuban free agent outfielder Rusney Castillo worth $72.5 million over seven years – the largest contract awarded to a Cuban player. The previous record was held by Jose Abreu, who received a six-year, $68 million deal from the Chicago White Sox last winter.
Castillo played five seasons for Ciego de Avila in Cuba’s top league, Serie Nacional, and was considered one of the country’s top base stealers.
“If he’s not a five-tool player, he’s a least a four-tool player,” said Red Sox outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. “He’s very comparable to [Dodgers outfielder Yasiel] Puig. Obviously a different height and size, but very similar qualities.”
Scouts relayed optimism about Castillo’s potential to Baseball America’s Ben Badler:
Some scouts who had followed Castillo with the Cuban national team felt he would be a steady, everyday center fielder in the big leagues, while others felt he would fit best as a fourth outfielder, with good speed and defense in center field, a line-drive stroke, an aggressive hitting approach and occasional power.
When Castillo showed up on Saturday at the University of Miami, scouts saw a different physique, which has translated to more power. At 5-foot-9, 205 pounds, Castillo is 20 pounds heavier than he was in Cuba, and it’s in a good way, with plenty of muscle packed on to his athletic frame.
The bigger story here is that we may be witnessing a new golden age of Cuban hitters in Major League Baseball.
The number of Cuban-born hitters in the majors spiked right after Castro’s revolution (1953) and continued after Cuba’s 1961 decision to replace the former professional baseball system with new amateur baseball leagues.
After a lull, production from Cuban-born hitters has been on the rise for most of the last decade. In terms of wins above replacement, Cuban-born hitters contributed close to zero in 2005 but has seen a spike to a total of 18.9 last season and currently sits at 16.1 this year, led by Abreu and Puig, with almost a quarter of the season left.
“Believe me, this is still the tip of the iceberg,” said American journalist Peter Bjarkman back in June. “There’s a lot of great talent [still] in Cuba. You’re going to see more and more Cuban presence here.”