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Can Rodolfo Castro answer Bucs’ second base question?

Young infielder showed some pop in limited action last year

St Louis Cardinals v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

News about the trade of former Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Adam Frazier made me flash on the Bucs’ own second base picture heading into the 2022 season.

I was never a huge Frazier fan, although I must admit he turned out to be a more effective player than I thought he’d be when the Pirates selected him in the sixth round of 2013 draft out of Mississippi State. He started proving me wrong right off the bat, hitting .321/.761 in his first pro season at Jamestown in the New York-Penn League, and after scuffling a bit at High-A Bradenton the following year, Frazier put up a .307/.801 profile at Double-A Altoona as a 23-year-old in 2015.

Frazier made it to the big leagues to stay in 2018 and in three non-COVID seasons with the Pirates, he put up respectable numbers, even if he was prone to slumps from time to time. He earned his freedom from the Pirates’ sinking ship at last year’s trade deadline, fetching a three-prospect return of utility man Tucupita Marcano, outfielder Jack Suwinski and right-handed reliever Michell Miliano.

It’s far too early to tell who “won” that trade, but Frazier never had time to set down roots in San Diego, as the Padres traded him last week to the Seattle Mariners.

I liked the return the Pirates received from San Diego in the Frazier deal when the trade was made and I still like it. Marcano, who apparently was coveted by GM Ben Cherington for some time, didn’t exactly light it up after coming to the Pirates but he’s young and certainly has time to develop. Suwinski did enough to warrant a spot on the 40-man and while Miliano had less than sparkling numbers at High-A Greensboro after the trade, crafting a 6.30 ERA in 20 innings over 16 appearances, he was young for his level at 21.

Frazier’s departure left a hole at second that several players attempted to fill during the final two months of season, with varying degrees of success. Hoy Park, who came from the Yankees in the Clay Holmes deal, appeared in 16 games at second and 42 overall with Pittsburgh and batted .197 with a .638 OPS in 149 plate appearances. Michael Chavis, acquired from Boston in a trade for left-hander Austin Davis, appeared in seven games at second and looked promising at the plate in limited duty, hitting .357/.857 in 42 plate appearances sandwiched around a month’s inactivity due to an elbow injury.

Kevin Newman, a Gold Glove finalist at shortstop, also played in 15 games at second. Newman certainly performed well defensively last season, but his bat left much to be desired, as he hit just .265/.574 in 554 plate appearances. Wilmer Difo appeared in 28 games but likely is out of the picture for 2022, as he elected free agency earlier this month after the Pirates sent him to Triple-A Indianapolis.

The aforementioned Marcano never suited up at second for the Pirates following his arrival from San Diego, but he did play 34 games for the Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate in Indianapolis. He also played eight games at second for the Padres and did not commit an error, but he struggled offensively, batting just .182 in 50 plate appearances as a 21-year-old.

The last player to see action at second last year for the Pirates is the player I’d like to see get a legitimate shot to win the everyday job this year, and that’s Rodolfo Castro. The 22-year-old Dominican native looked overmatched at times and finished with a .198 batting average and a .653 OPS in 93 plate appearances. But he also showed some pop; five of his 17 hits left the yard and he also had a pair of doubles. It’s safe to say the Pirates won’t be contending in 2022, so why not to give Castro a long, hard look at second base? It’s likely he’ll be just a placeholder until Nick Gonzales, the Pirates’ top pick in the 2020 draft, is ready to step in and start spraying line drives all over the field. Gonzales had a few rough patches at High-A Greensboro in 2021, but he also showed he can handle the bat, and continued to do so in the recently completed Arizona Fall League. An assignment at Double-A Altoona would seem to make sense for Gonzales, and if he continues to hit, there’s no reason why he couldn’t finish the 2022 season at Indianapolis – and maybe even earn a late-season promotion to Pittsburgh.

But for the start of the 2022 campaign, I’m hoping that Castro gets the nod and is given sufficient time to see if he’s part of the club’s future. Even if it’s not at second, Castro has shown some defensive versatility, and if his bat is up to the task, he could be a valuable utility piece when the Pirates are ready to contend.