Red Sox

Expectations For Rusney Castillo Should Be Tempered, But At Least He’s A Fun Reason To Pay Attention

It’s been too long since the Red Sox have had a single game worthy of genuine anticipation. The meaningful moments and memories were made in other ballparks this year.

The Orioles last night become the official successor to the defending champions atop the American League East, and here’s to Dan Duquette’s redemption.

The Yankees hovered on the fringe of the wild card race, but the hope of a postseason sendoff for Derek Jeter has faded like the once-great shortstop’s skills. Mr. November will be finished in September.

But the Sox? Nope, not a lot of suspense around Yawkey Way this year, beyond whether the Red Sox would finish with a better record this year than during their previous last-place finish in 2012, when they went 69-93. The Red Sox, at 66-85 right now, would have to go 3-8 to equal that disaster.

Looks like the trolls who want to bait you into believing this lost season is just as miserable as that one won’t have that piece of supposed evidence on their side after all.

It’s not nearly as discouraging, of course, for one reason that will be repeated again tonight: There is a tremendous amount of high-end young talent on the 2014 Red Sox. There is hope.

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That was not the case in ’12 whatsoever, even if you thought you saw something worth keeping in the likes of Pedro Ciriaco, last spotted rapping three hits for the Omaha StormChasers against Pawtucket in the Triple A championship game.

The situation in ’12 was hopeless, at least until the Dodgers come along. The situation with current Red Sox? Well, it’s disappointing, sure, that they followed up a championship season with this debacle. But the primary emotion at the moment should be hope, because a bright future is in sight.

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In fact, a potentially big part of that future arrives tonight.

After 18 months away from baseball and 11 shake-the-rust-off games at three minor-league levels, Rusney Castillo makes his major-league debut tonight when the Red Sox take on the Pirates.

Don’t know about you, but I haven’t looked forward to a Red Sox game this much since … geez, I don’t know, Mookie Betts’s debut June 29? Maybe Yoenis Cespedes’s August 2 debut after the Jon Lester blockbuster with the Athletics?

It’s been awhile, and it’s a hell of a juxtaposition to this date last year, when the Red Sox were three days from clinching the division title and the season’s best moments were still to come.

Given that memorable, meaningful moments have been rare this season, it’s actually possible that the best is yet to come. Oh, I’m not suggesting that outcomes actually matter. The cause was lost long ago, and the remaining games are essentially auditions for 2015.

But Xander Bogaerts (.377/.391/.639 in September) has pulled out of his summer-long malaise, and Mookie Betts (.283/.362/.434 in 141 plate appearances) has ascended with such acceleration that it has become very difficult to consider parting with him even in a mega-deal. If you can’t get excited about the possibilities with that pair of gifted, determined 21-year-olds, I can’t help you.

And now they are joined by Castillo, who is older (27) but arrives at Fenway cloaked in both great promise and mystery. Since the Red Sox signed him to a seven-year, $72.5 million deal on August 22, he’s played 11 professional games at three levels, hitting .293/.370/.463 with five walks, nine strikeouts, four doubles, and this home run in the first inning of last night’s Triple A title game:

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It’s fun to prorate that 11-game sample over a full season, because the numbers add up to a superstar — double-digit homers, 30-ish steals, 40-or so doubles, and so on. I’m convinced — yes, I know, idiotically convinced, without having seen him play an inning — that he profiles as what Deion Sanders would have been if he gave a high-stepping damn about baseball.

Castillo’s skill-set seems capable of matching and perhaps surpassing Sanders’s performance during these three seasons in which he gave baseball more than a semi-commitment:

Of course, speculating on what Castillo might do is an utterly worthless exercise. There are so many variables and such little data or even anecdotal evidence to go on that we don’t know what he will be.

What we do know is that he has enviable physical ability. We also recognize that he is old for the minor leagues in which he played, and there will be rust he needs to shake off — just ask Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales, lost causes at the plate after missing but a few months, not a year and a half like Castillo.

When watching him make his debut tonight, we shouldn’t expect a polished player. That will come in time, perhaps next spring, as he gets acclimated to his new league and new life.

What we should look for now are glimpses, flashes, hints of a dynamic skill in one aspect of the game or another. The broadcasters in Portland raved about his baserunning. How fun will it be to have someone with game-changing speed again?

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Enthusiasm should not be tempered. Expectations, right now, should be. All-around success for Castillo would be a tremendous outcome from these next 11 games. Just remember that it is extremely unlikely

Me, I’d be satisfied watching him go from first to third a couple of times, to see signs of what he might be when all of the Red Sox games matter again.

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