Tigers give Willi Castro, an infielder by trade, a trial by fire in left field

Detroit News

Detroit — This idea was kicked around last season. Then-manager Ron Gardenhire, seeing an athletic player like Willi Castro struggling to master some of the subtleties of playing middle infield, wondered if the Tigers should move him to the outfield.

Current manager AJ Hinch has taken it from idea to reality.

Castro, for the first time in his professional career, started in left field Saturday.

“Willi is fine,” Hinch said. “I think everybody else will be more nervous then he will be. He’s worked out there the last few days. He’s shagged balls out there his whole life. He’s a good athlete. And quite honestly, I think he is open to the challenge.”

That is fact. Castro was open to it last year when he took some practice reps in center field. He was open to it when the Tigers moved him off of shortstop this year. He just wants to be in the lineup. He’s positionally-fluid.

“I feel good,” Castro said. “I played outfield in travel ball (amateur). I played outfield a lot. I was pretty good. At the beginning of the season I said, wherever they need me, I will be there playing. I’ve been up and down this year, but I know the kind of player I am.

“I am not going to lose my focus, just keep working.”

Moving Castro to the outfield was precipitated by injuries to outfielders Akil Baddoo (concussion), Derek Hill (ribs) and Daz Cameron (toe). Hinch didn’t want to start left-handed hitters Jacob Robson or Harold Castro against what was expected to be a parade of mostly left-handed pitchers from the Cleveland Indians, who were deploying a bullpen game.

He could have started Eric Haase in left and used Grayson Greiner behind the plate, but he felt the best chance for the Tigers to win was to keep Castro’s bat in the lineup.

“I’m just not afraid of trying it,” Hinch said. “And I’m not afraid of trying it in a game given the injuries we’ve had and roster configuration we have.”

Hinch reminded everyone that it created a lot of curiosity this spring when he moved Haase to left field, too, and that worked out just fine. Plus, with Jonathan Schoop signing a two-year extension and the Tigers likely to be shopping for shortstops this offseason, moving to the outfield might be Castro’s best chance to win a roster spot in 2022.

“Willi is a player we believe in, so the more positions we put him at the better,” Hinch said. “This doesn’t close the book on him playing the infield. But the value of being able to put him anywhere — I’ve been around a lot of players in my career who have thrived in this role.

“It’s always been a curiosity. We’ve flirted with it before. He’s got a skill set that can help our team and help himself and make us a more interesting team. If not, no harm done. Just get him back to second base.”

Twitter@cmccosky

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