Harold Castro hopes to go from last man on Detroit Tigers roster to contributor

Detroit Free Press

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Detroit Tigers utility player Harold Castro felt the pressure in spring training, facing an intense battle for one of the final spots on the 26-man Opening Day roster. 

The 27-year-old is a jack of all trades, playing eight of nine positions through 129 games across parts of four MLB seasons. But the Tigers already had Niko Goodrum, another utility player, slated to make the roster. The odds were not in Castro’s favor.

“You got to be here and compete,” Castro said Tuesday. “I knew it was going to be hard to make the major-league team. Just keep doing what I have to do and play where the manager needs me and give my 100% to make the team. That’s what I did.”

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When it came time for the Tigers to make decisions in Lakeland, Florida, Castro was grouped with two teammates: 22-year-old infielder Isaac Paredes and 27-year-old first baseman Renato Nunez. For most of camp, many assumed the organization would need to choose between Paredes and Nunez.

Paredes, a third baseman, looked smooth at second base, a new secondary position, but struggled to post competitive at-bats. Meanwhile, Nunez had already displayed MLB power — with 43 homers in 203 games between 2019 and 2020 as the Baltimore Orioles’ primary designated hitter — but needs more time to improve defensively at first base. (Paredes and Nunez are in Triple-A Toledo at the alternate training site, but they should each play in the majors this season.)

Those scenarios made Castro the last man standing.

“With him and Niko moving around, the versatility of this roster is really, really good,” manager AJ Hinch said. “His attitude and approach to that job has been very positive and, quite honestly, it’s why managers fall in love with him.”

Why Tigers’ AJ Hinch has made ‘versatility’ the name of the game ]

After pitching a scoreless inning in Monday loss, Castro has played eight positions: second base (38 games), center field (32), left field (14), third base (14), right field (11), shortstop (eight), first base (five) and pitcher (1).

Because the Tigers don’t have an everyday first baseman, expect to see Castro fill in at that position more often than the other infield positions and the outfield, where the Tigers have a five-man crew competing for playing time.

“If I’m in the lineup, I’m going to feel good everywhere,” Castro said. “But I’ve been working hard (at first base) with the manager, Santi (first base coach) Ramon Santiago), with everybody. I’ve been working. … Show your chest to them, and it’s going to be easier. I know how it is when you see a tall guy at first, so I’m trying to do that.”

But Castro remains far from established. Although he is in his fourth MLB season, his journey is defined by a six-game debut season in 2018, jumping back-and-forth between the majors and Triple-A in 2019 and a lingering hamstring injury that kept him to 22 games in 2020.

[ Tigers’ Harold Castro’s day started in Toledo, ended with hit vs. Phillies ]

He has a lifetime .295 batting average with five homers and 41 RBIs in his 417 at-bats. He has struck out 101 times and doesn’t draw many walks (14). 

His 23.1% strikeout rate is higher than league average (21.8%) and 3.2% walk rate is much lower than league average (8.3%). 

He’s still early in his MLB career and looking to secure more opportunities.

“I think every player after the season, more if you have a good season, has to be established or have security on the team,” Castro said. “But even if you get security, or are a solid guy for the team, every year you got to come here with the same hunger.”

Hurlin’ Harold talks pitching

While many refer to Castro as Hittin’ Harold, he picked up a new nickname — Hurlin’ Harold — after pitching a scoreless ninth inning in Monday’s 15-6 loss to the Twins.

On Tuesday morning, Castro explained what he talked about with catcher Wilson Ramos while warming up for his first pitch, a 71.2 mph fastball to Nelson Cruz. (The next pitch, at 71.5 mph, got Cruz to fly out to left field.)

“Hey, I’m throwing a splitter, slider, changeup, sinker, call everything,” Castro said about his conversation with Ramos. “You just call it, and I’ll throw it. We were joking around. We just talked about, ‘OK, let’s just throw fastballs.’ “

AJ Hinch: Harold Castro delivered ‘cleanest inning we had’ ]

Castro hasn’t pitched since Little League in Venezuela.

He assumes he could reach 85 mph on the radar gun, only if he tried to throw harder. But that wasn’t his task Monday.

“I was just trying to throw the ball (for strikes),” Castro said. “I wasn’t thinking about throwing hard. I was just throwing it down the middle to make the out. … As a hitter, it’s tough to hit a position player. As a hitter, you want to do more because you know it’s going to be easy, it’s going to be slow.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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