Is it time for the Detroit Tigers to start worrying about Willi Castro?

DETROIT – A lot of things went well for the Detroit Tigers over the past three months, but the same can’t be said for the struggling infielder Willi Castro.

The 24-year-old hasn’t even played a full season of MLB games in his young career, but it’s already been a hell of a roller coaster.

When he entered the league in 2019, Castro looked completely overwhelmed. After dominating Triple-A for most of the season, he only hit .230 powerless and a .624 OPS (base percentage plus hitting percentage) in 30 major league games.

As a result, Castro did not start the shortened 2020 season with the Tigers. But when he was called up in mid-August, he looked like a whole different player. In 36 games, he ran stride for stride with Jeimer Candelario as the team’s top two hitters.

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Castro finished 2020 with a batting average of .349, .932 OPS and 12 more hits. He started this season at bat third in the Tigers’ lineup and looked to be a valuable asset for years to come.

Everyone expected Castro’s numbers to drop a bit because of his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) last season. There was certainly some luck in his escape, but overall he still thought he was an exciting young player.

Instead, the first few weeks of the season were an absolute disaster. Not only was Castro struggling at home, but he also had to be moved to second base because the shortstop experience wasn’t working.

Kansas City Royals’ Jarrod Dyson is second as Detroit Tigers second baseman Willi Castro (9) goes first for a double play during the seventh inning of a baseball game at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, in the Missouri, Sunday July 25. 2021. (The Associated Press 2021)

Unfortunately for the Tigers, he can’t play second base either. To justify staying in the lineup, Castro has to strike – and he isn’t.

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Castro has always had a volatile profile due to his inability to chart walks. Players who have a good understanding of the strike zone can enter the batting count, swing on pitches they can deal damage against, and force pitchers to knock them out inside the strike zone.

But Castro has made no progress in this area. He chases fast balls high above the zone and broken balls below the zone. The pitchers know they don’t have to worry about walking Castro around, so they don’t give him anything to hit, and he gets away with it most of the time.

Right now, Castro hits in over a quarter of his plate appearances and only walks 5.6% of them. His percentage on base has dropped to 0.269 during the season.

He showed a little more power, with 11 doubles, four triples and seven homers, 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 hit base on stroke-by-stroke and a mistake, but the hitters just weren’t competitive.

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Willi Castro of the Detroit Tigers plays in a baseball game Friday, July 30, 2021, in Detroit. (The Associated Press 2021)

It is no use for the Tigers to abandon a young player who has already shown promise. What if he could one day rediscover last year’s contact skills and combine them with this year’s power numbers?

But there’s no point in letting him flounder at the MLB level, either. His frustration is evident and changes need to be made. He is a 0.7 negative WAR player (wins over substitution) so far this season.

The Tigers have a few replacement options. Isaac Paredes is an obvious choice once his rehabilitation is over. Kody Clemens hits well in Toledo and could be worth considering. It might be as easy as letting Zack Short and Harold Castro play in the middle.

The point is, Willi Castro doesn’t look good. For him as much as for the team, it’s probably time for the Tigers to consider other options.

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