For as much as the Minnesota Twins value positional flexibility, they don’t have too many players on the roster that would qualify as true utility players. Until they’re most recent minor-league signing, that is.
According to Darren Wolfson of KSTP Channel 5 & SKOR North (and Castro’s own Instagram profile), the Twins have added former Detroit Tigers utility player Willi Castro on a minor-league deal with an invitation to big-league camp.
#MNTwins in agreement with Willi Castro on a MiLB deal with invite to big league camp. Tip of the hat to @TwinsFarmReport for noting Castro’s IG bio referencing member of Twins. The former Tiger played many positions last year. pic.twitter.com/rEL3xwBXyW— Darren Wolfson (@DWolfsonKSTP) December 30, 2022
It’s a fairly intriguing signing; it was only in the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign that Castro slashed .349/.381/.550, albeit in just 140 plate appearances. Still, it was enough to land him the No. 4 spot in American League Rookie of the Year voting.
Castro appeared in 237 games over the last two seasons with the Tigers but managed an OPS of just .637. In 2022, he played every position except first base, catcher, and pitcher, and mostly held his own in each spot. While he isn’t an ideal option at shortstop, he’s likely a more viable option than, say, Nick Gordon.
Consider the utility-esque players on the 40-man roster. At this point, newcomer Kyle Farmer is the Opening Day shortstop by default. Luis Arraez is a corner infielder and second baseman who has long since played his last innings at shortstop and corner outfield. Gordon is mostly an outfielder at this point with the ability to play a bit of middle infield. Royce Lewis is a shortstop/centerfielder and, hopefully, the starting shortstop of the future, but is out for several more months.
Edouard Julien was recently added to the 40-man roster but played exclusively second base last year at Double-A Wichita and has never played shortstop professionally. In a somewhat ironic twist, last year’s fill-in shortstop, Jermaine Palacios, is in the Tigers organization.
That means that Farmer and Gordon are the only legitimate (healthy) options at shortstop as we turn the calendar to 2023.
The switch-hitting Willi Castro has a real chance to make the Opening Day roster. Helping his cause is that he still has an option remaining and will be in just his age-26 season. There’s a small bit of upside with Castro, and he’s a more viable backup shortstop option than anyone else currently on the roster and within shouting distance of the major-league roster.
Of course, it would be preferable if the Twins added a true starting shortstop — Carlos Correa, anyone? — and were able to bump the right-handed Farmer into a true super-utility role alongside the left-handed Arraez. But given that a Correa reunion or major trade remains unlikely at this juncture, the Castro signing is still a welcome depth addition.