| Detroit Free Press
Detroit Tigers’ Willi Castro: ‘Really cool’ to finish top 5 in AL Rookie of Year
Detroit Tigers shortstop Willi Castro talks Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, about finishing tied for fourth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting.
Despite tying for fourth place in the American League Rookie of Year voting and hitting .349 last year, Willi Castro isn’t being handed the starting shortstop job by the Detroit Tigers for the 2021 season.
Of course, Castro is expected to be in the starting lineup, but where he will take the field is unclear as the franchise looks at adding free agents.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” Castro said Wednesday. “I’m just looking forward to coming with a better mindset. I have to come stronger. I’m going to be more successful, and I’m looking forward to having a really good spring training.”
The 23-year-old has experience at shortstop, second base and third base, plus a few weeks of training in the outfield with former first base coach Dave Clark. What the Tigers do in free agency will determine where Castro ends up.
Being an everyday player, especially at shortstop, is a goal Castro set in July’s summer camp. He got a 30-game big-league stint in 2019 but only had a .230 batting average, one homer and eight RBIs.
“I didn’t do too good,” Castro said. “I came this year focused on that, to be an everyday shortstop and try to help the team win. I’m looking forward to learning more.”
Another obstacle between Castro and the starting job at short: His defense in 2020. At shortstop, he had five errors in 85 chances; at third, he made one error in 16 chances.
Castro’s offensive breakthrough overshadowed his defensive shortcomings and the right shoulder soreness that cost him the final game of the season. The pain lingered for about two months; he did not require surgery.
Now he is in Lakeland, Florida, home of the Tigers’ spring training facility; he just started throwing to first base again. He won’t play Winter League ball this season — something he has done for the last three winters. The organization wants him to rest for spring training.
But Castro, who already has heard from new third base coach Chip Hale, is focused on improving his defense. Specifically, he wants to boost his accuracy when throwing to first base.
“I struggled a little bit in that,” Castro said, adding he needs to tweak his body positioning. “I did a better job with this year working with (first base coach Ramon) Santiago and all that stuff, but there’s stuff you can change. I know I can fix that. That’s going to happen to you as a player. You’re going to struggle with some stuff.”
One area Castro didn’t have any trouble with: the batter’s box, where he went 45-for-129 with four doubles, two triples, six homers and 24 RBIs. Among rookies with at least 125 at-bats, he was first in batting average (.349) and slugging percentage (.550) and second in on-base percentage (.381). He logged the second-highest batting average among rookies in franchise history, behind Fred Haney’s .352 average (75-for-213) in 1922.
Those marks were enough to get him in the top five in AL ROY voting, with one second-place vote and four third-place votes — behind Seattle’s Kyle Lewis (first with all 30 first-place votes), Chicago’s Luis Robert (second with 27 second-place votes, two third-place votes) and Houston’s Cristian Javier (third with 11 third-place votes). Castro tied for fourth with Oakland’s Sean Murphy (one second-place vote and four third-place votes).
“It was really, really cool,” Castro said. “I had a really good year. I wasn’t thinking about that, I was just trying to make the team win and play good games, (have) a good approach. But it was nice.”
Castro was motivated by a meeting with the organization toward the end of summer camp in late July. He was told he would start the season at the alternate training site in Toledo.
Castro was called up Aug. 11 and made the most of his opportunity by securing a spot in the lineup — at shortstop or elsewhere — for the 2021 season.
“I was not happy with that because I know I did a good job,” Castro said. “I stuck with my focus. I went down there (and) was having some good ABs, trying to work harder so I could get back in the bigs.
“That’s what happened. I kept my routine going and had a great year.”