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Thinking outside the mound

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Kent State at Miami
Rocker, Leiter ... Del Castillo?
David Santiago/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Pretty much from the moment that Logan Hofmann’s name cleared Ben Cherington’s lips last June—for those who don’t remember, right-hander Hofmann was the Pirates’ fifth-round pick—the conjecturing for the 2021 draft was on. The Kumar Rocker/Jack Leiter debate still rages, but BD Commentariat member Ernie H posed an interesting question—what if, for some reason, the Pirates couldn’t draft a pitcher? Who should be next on their radar?

As I wrote last week, the Pirates don’t need shortstops. They’ve got enough present and future guys to practically ensure that Nick Gonzales is going to end up as a second baseman. Outfielders? Arguably, it’s not that hard to make someone an outfielder. Corner infielders? We all know Ke’Bryan Hayes has third base locked up, and Colin Moran has made a decent transition to first.

But what about catching? This has been an issue for a while. Jacob Stallings has stepped up admirably as of late, but behind him have been what’s amounted to stopgaps. Stallings is also 31, and while catcher is the one position where players tend to get better with age, one has to think about things like free agency (don’t laugh, it could happen).

So I looked on MLB.com’s list of the top prospects and saw this:

  1. Kumar Rocker, RHP, Vanderbilt
  2. Jordan Lawlar, SS, Jesuit Prep (Texas)
  3. Matt McLain, SS, UCLA
  4. Adrian Del Castillo, C, Miami

Poking around in a few other places, I found that Del Castillo is always slated in the top ten—in fact, he’s usually in the top five. Let’s see what he offers.

21-year-old Del Castillo, a 5-11 210-pound Miami native, was selected in the low rounds of the 2018 draft by the White Sox, although it was very obvious that he was going to the U. Miami’s baseball program has turned around under the direction of Gino DiMare, and Del Castillo is the captain of a team that’s expected to go places this year. His bat is what puts him in with the elite. In his freshman year in 2019, his slash line was .331/.418/.576, with 12 homers, 71 RBIs, 31 walks, and an OPS of 0.995. In the pandemic-shorted 2020 season, his OPS was 1.025 with a slash line of .358/.478/.547 in sixteen games. Twelve games into the 2021 season, he already has three dingers and twelve RBI, although his slash and OPS are lower, .277/.364/.511 and 0.864 respectively. Still, he looks to be on track to match his previous numbers.

His catching skills, however, might give some pause. His arm is considered to be strong and his accuracy good, but he tends to move around a lot receiving pitches and catch the ball in a “snap,” making it difficult for umpires to determine if the pitch was truly a strike. He recently changed his catching stance to a one-knee Tony Pena-style, though, and scouts feel that this will help him solidify his defense and keep him in the top third of draft picks.

Look, we all know Ben Cherington loves pitchers, but the Pirates have been needing to bolster the catcher position. Springing a surprise along the lines of choosing Adrian Del Castillo with the first pick might be an indication that Cherington considers the Bucs to be stocked up pretty well in the arms department.