We all know and love Willy Wonka, the fictional owner of a candy factory who provided the world with delectable sweets and gave five children the opportunity of a lifetime. I’m not sure everyone knows Milli Vanilli, though, but they should, as the group has become synonymous with one-hit wonders. Which brings me to Willi Castro of the Minnesota Twins. He has provided plenty of sweets for fantasy managers this season (5 home runs and 25 stolen bases) but had never eclipsed the double-digit steal barrier in any prior MLB season. Let’s dig in.
Castro is 26 years old, 6-foot-1, 206 pounds, and is a switch hitter. He signed with the Cleveland Indians as an international free agent back in 2013. Five years later, he was traded to the Detroit Tigers. After the 2022 season, he became a free agent and signed a minor league deal with the Twins.
For most of his minor league career, Castro had a batting average in the .250 area with a sub-5% walk rate, 20% strikeout rate, and .100 ISO. His main strength was the wheels on the basepath, as he racked up double-digit stolen bases in five seasons. He did hit 11 home runs in two seasons, so he wasn’t completely devoid of power. In fact, the ISO did go above .200 in two seasons, albeit in small sample sizes of 114 and 140 plate appearances.
Castro made his first appearance in MLB during the 2019 season with Detroit. He slashed .230/.284/.340 with a 5.5% walk rate, 30.9% strikeout rate, and .110 ISO in 110 plate appearances. The following season, he accrued 140 plate appearances and slashed .349/.381/.550 with a 5% walk rate, 27.1% strikeout rate, and .202 ISO. The BABIP was an insane .448, though.
2021 is when he played almost regularly, receiving 450 plate appearances and producing a .220/.273/.351 slash with a 5.1% walk rate, 24.2% strikeout rate and .131 ISO. He ended with nine home runs and nine stolen bases. Last season, in 392 plate appearances, he racked up eight home runs and nine stolen bases. The encouraging thing was that the strikeout rate was only 20.9%.
So far this season (259 plate appearances), the walk rate is 7.3%, the strikeout rate is 25.9% and the ISO is .126. The numbers are pretty much in-line with what he’s been doing except for the walk rate, which is a career-high. The eye-popping stat, though, is the 25 stolen bases!
In 2019, Detroit was 24th in stolen base attempts per game. Castro did not steal a base in 110 plate appearances. The following season, they were 28th and Castro did not steal a base in 140 plate appearances. In 2021, Detroit was 9th and Castro stole nine bases in 450 plate appearances. Last season, they were 26th and Castro stole nine in 392 plate appearances. For a team that plays in the Motor City, the Tigers have not been good representatives.
The Twins are 27th in stolen base attempts per game. Where would they be without Castro’s 25? Looking at the roster construction, it’s not difficult to see the organizational philosophy. The important thing is that Castro has the green light when he’s on the basepaths. With the new rules, it definitely makes sense.
Looking at the Statcast numbers, Castro is in the 85th percentile for sprint speed. Throughout his MLB career, he’s been in the 28.2 to 28.7 ft/s range. For perspective, Elly De La Cruz currently leads MLB at 30.4 ft/sec. Castro is 80th, sandwiched by Oneil Cruz and Jazz Chisholm Jr. The speed is real. There ain’t no Milli Vanilli here.
As for the hitting, Castro is hitting fewer ground balls this season than in the past. The 35.2% groundball rate is a career-low while the flyball rate is above 40% for the first time.
The plate discipline numbers are meh. The chase rate is 38.8% while the swinging strike rate is 14.6%. The contact rate in the zone is 82% while that number in general is at 71.7%.
Castro is a switch hitter and the numbers aren’t too different. The walk rate is slightly lower while the strikeout rate is slightly higher against right-handed pitching. Castro does have more power from the left side of the plate, as the ISO is .151 versus .083 against left-handed pitching.
Now, what happens when Nick Gordon returns, who could be back soon? Castro does have an option left, so it’s within the range of outcomes that he gets sent down to the minors, especially if he gets cold at the plate. As long as he continues to hit, I think Castro is a fixture for the Twins. His multi-position eligibility is so valuable and he leads the Twins in stolen bases by a wide margin. Only Michael Taylor and Byron Buxton are legitimate threats on the basepaths. From a fantasy perspective, did you know that Castro is fifth in stolen bases in all of MLB?