Bautista named starting third baseman
Castillo must earn roster spot as reserve infielder
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Jose Bautista will be the Pirates starting third baseman, manager Jim Tracy announced Friday, and Jose Castillo will begin the season on the bench.
"They're very similar players. One of the things that jumps out at you, is I think Jose Bautista is further along from the standpoint of plate discipline," Tracy said. "That's important to us. A consistent approach on a day-in, day-out basis is what I see."
It seems Bautista, who's played five positions with four different teams over the last three seasons, may have finally found himself a home at the hot corner. The 26-year-old had career highs in every offensive category during 2006, his first full year with Pittsburgh, and was favored over the former starting second baseman Castillo headed into Spring Training.
"It was a really big surprise, but something that I definitely welcome," Bautista said. "I'm glad that I'm going to get the opportunity to get a lot of playing time. My main goal coming into camp was to settle into a position and I'm really excited to do so."
Castillo, 25, said personal problems contributed to his slump last season in which he went 8-for-73 (.110) over the last month, and compiled a career-high 18 errors at second base with a career-low .253 batting average. He picked himself up during the Venezuelan Winter League and arrived in Bradenton at least 10 pounds lighter in February, but Tracy wasn't quite sold.
"Performance is everything, this is a business," Tracy said. "We want these players to realize that mediocrity is not what we're striving for. We want a lot more than that here."
Statistically, the two men aren't too far apart. In 2006, Bautista had 16 homers and 51 RBIs, while Castillo had 14 homers and 65 RBIs. Bautista has collected eight RBIs and committed a single error in Spring Training. Castillo's hitting a bit higher (.286 to Bautista's .244), but has had a few lax moments on defense, and on Tuesday it resulted in a run scoring.
On Friday, it resulted in Castillo losing a starting spot he'd had for the last three seasons.
"I feel like the capability of getting back is there," Tracy said. "But the sense of awareness, plate discipline, and being in tune to the game for every pitch that gets thrown ... I've seen little tiny spurts of that off and on, I've not seen that on any kind of a consistent basis.
"I think he's capable of it, and I've told him so. I think that the understanding has to be is where we're trying to head as a ballclub, that had better be important, day-in and day-out. Not once in a while."
For Castillo, it's a sign the window of opportunity is closing. After his performance at the tail end of last season, shortstop Jack Wilson blasted his efforts during a television interview, and challenged his teammate to step up. Castillo may have responded a bit, but has yet to go the distance. Tracy went so far as to say that Castillo was going to be the utility reserve infielder "today," meaning there are eight days remaining in Spring Training, and it was up to Castillo whether he wanted to keep that spot.
Castillo made it loud and clear that he was both prepared and determined to keep trying.
"In the newspapers [before Spring Training began], I saw, 'Castillo may not be a starter,' so I came here ready to go," he said. "I'll play every day, or I'll play sometimes. Whatever position I play, I'll be 100 percent ready."
Tracy is willing to be patient with Castillo, acknowledging sometimes that a message sent isn't always clear right away, but takes a while to sink in.
"Sometimes it takes longer, so you keep sending it. Sometimes you have to change the message a little bit, which is what we're doing now, to make sure the person you're talking to hears it loud and clear and realizes that there's a serious intonation to what's being said.
"You're hopeful that at some point in time he realizes that, and he brings out that player that you're suggesting had that type of ceiling a year or so ago, because I haven't seen that thus far. I'd love to see it, and if we do see it ... we'll respond. We'll act on it very, very quickly."
Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.