Brandon Magee keeps us up to date on the comings and goings of the Boston Red Sox farm system, has shown us the depth of the connection we can forge through shared fandom and the art of conversion from position player to pitcher. Here he gives us a look at the two newest foreign imports in Yoan Moncada and Rusney Castillo as they finally get on the field after a long winter.
Yoan Moncada and Rusney Castillo will be forever linked. Both are Cubans who signed record contracts with the Red Sox. Moncada was granted a record amount for an international signing bonus and Castillo received the largest major league contract ever given to a Cuban defector. However, they arrived in the U.S. in very different ways. This week, both players began new assignments in the Sox system.
Yoan Moncada signed with the Red Sox this February, agreeing to a $31.5 million signing bonus, breaking the previous international signing bonus from earlier in the year (Yoan Lopez, signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks) by $23 million. In September of 2013, Cuba announced plans that allowed Cuban players to sign contracts with foreign leagues. Moncada, who had played two seasons in Serie Nacional (the Cuban Major League) at 17 and 18 years old, was cleared by Cuba’s National Baseball Commission to leave Cuba in 2014 (allowing him to emigrate to Guatemala and establish residency). He was declared a free agent by Major League Baseball on November 15, 2014. A week before signing with the Red Sox, MLB changed their rules for Cuban nationals, no longer requiring them to apply for a specific license from the Office of Foreign Asset Control, instead reverting to allowing use of a general license.
Moncada, who did not play baseball in 2014, started this season in minor league spring training and extended spring training before earning a place on the roster of the Greenville Drive. Last Monday, in his debut, he went 0-for-3 with a walk and scored two runs. On Tuesday, he got his first hit, an infield single:
Yoan continued to hit the rest of the week, picking up his first multi-hit game on Wednesday, going 3-for-4, recording a single and drawing a walk in four plate appearances on Thursday and then getting his first extra-base hit, a triple, in a 1-for-3 effort on Saturday. Unfortunately, the slide into third injured his hamstring and it appears Moncada will be sidelined for a little bit:
While the injury puts a damper on his week, Moncada, who turns 20 years old today, started his stateside career with a five-game on-base streak and showed that he can hit at this level. He does have some things to continue working on. Yoan struck out six times in his 18 at bats, a rate that would be considered far too high in a larger sample size. His defense has also been a bit rough, as he has already committed three errors in only four games at second base.
Unlike the young Moncada, Castillo was not allowed by the government to leave Cuba. After being suspended in 2013 from the top Cuban league Serie Nacional, presumably for attempting to defect, Rusney successfully defected to the Dominican Republic in late 2013. After going through all the hoops and hurdles (establishing residency, clearing OFAC, gaining MLB approval), Castillo finally signed with the Red Sox on August 23rd, 2014. He had not played a game in almost two full seasons. Castillo signed the largest contract ever for a Cuban national, $72.5 million over seven years.
Castillo, who will be 28 in July, started his Red Sox career in the second game of the Gulf Coast League Finals on August 31st. He led off as a DH for the GCL Sox, singling in his first at-bat before striking out in his second and final at-bat of the day. The next day, he started in CF, going 0-for-3 with a walk as the GCL Sox won the 2014 Championship Series.
Castillo then moved up to the Portland Sea Dogs and tried to secure the second championship of his Red Sox career. Castillo played in four of the five games against the Binghamton Mets, going 5-for-14 with a pair of doubles, a walk and a stolen base. Unfortunately, the Sea Dogs lost the series, 3-2.
Castillo next moved forward to the Pawtucket Red Sox, who were in the International League Finals. Rusney went 2-for-8 with a walk in the first two games of the series, before being rested in game 3. Castillo batted only 1-for-6 with a walk in a 13-inning PawSox win in game 4, but his lone hit was a game-tying single in the top of the 9th. Rusney saved his best for the final game, helping the PawSox to the Governor’s Cup with a 2-for-4 day in game 5, with 2 doubles and a SB.
Castillo played one more game for the PawSox, the AAA Championship Game against Omaha. While Rusney did hit his first Red Sox HR, his 1-for-4 was not enough to give him a third piece of jewelry in his three-week-old Red Sox career. The following day, Castillo joined the Red Sox starting lineup.
Castillo played ten games for Boston to close out his first month of baseball in the States, batting .333/.400/.528 with a double and two HRs to end the season.
Facing a crowded Red Sox outfield at the start of 2015, Castillo once again joined Pawtucket to begin the season. Rusney, who injured his shoulder in the third game of the season and missed two weeks, has played eighteen games for the PawSox this season, batting .293/.341/.440 with five doubles, six stolen bases, and a pair of homeruns – both coming in the same game.
After leaving the PawSox on paternity leave for three days, Castillo played one more game for Pawtucket on May 21st (going 1-for-6) before being called up to Boston. He started in each of his first three games after his promotion, garnering three singles in a dozen at-bats.
Just as their journeys to the US differed, so too will Moncada’s and Castillo’s roads to the major leagues. Castillo has already made it to Boston with a quick blitz through the minor league system to shake off the rust of a two-year absence from baseball. Moncada, seven years younger and with room to develop, will have a longer, likely multi-year sojourn through the Red Sox system. Both players will be watched closely by the eyes of Red Sox Nation, who will hope that one, if not both, of these Cubans can become stars for the Red Sox.