“I heard he is very fast."
“He’s very aggressive, very aggressive."
“He likes strong baseball."
If you listen to his countrymen's descriptions of his play on the field, new Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo should be fine adjusting to the big leagues after spending all of his life playing baseball in Cuba.
"He can throw the baseball very fast,” said Kendrys Morales, the Seattle Mariners DH who signed a six-year contract with the Angels after leaving Cuba in 2004. “He is a good baseball player. I hope he can show it here.”
Castillo will get plenty of chances to show what he's capable of in Boston after signing a seven-year, $72.5 million deal with the Sox over the weekend. But that amount of money -- and the attention and expectations that come with it -- do little to prepare you for the changes that lie ahead, say others who've made the journey from Cuba themselves.
Players have already reached out to offer advice on the transition. Adjusting from Cuba to the United States is “a process,” as Mariners pitcher Roenis Elias put it. Morales referred to is as “a change in life.” While Red Sox outfielder and fellow Cuban Yoenis Cespedes has reminded Castillo baseball in the same sport in both countries, he also knows there are many adjustments he experienced away from the game that Castillo will as well.
“I think in his personal life, it’s going to be a little difficult because the changes are very big,” Cespedes told Boston.com in Spanish, adding, “The change in language was the biggest for me. Also, the traffic. It’s nothing like that in Cuba. In Cuba there are hardly cars. Also, the level of life … Here you have the possibility to have whatever you want.”
Teammates doubled as translators for Cespedes. Over time, he became more comfortable navigating the crowded roads. He understands the enormity of the differences and hopes his new teammate takes it step by step.
“Don’t feel bad and don’t get overwhelmed,” Cespedes suggested. “Stay calm and little by little it will get better.”
Castillo addressed the media with a translator on Saturday. Inside the Red Sox clubhouse, though, he will have a group of Spanish-speaking players who can help with the transition. Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano, who is represented by the same agency, Jay Z's Roc Nation Sports, as Castillo, believes Castillo will have the support of not only his teammates, but the fans as well.
“I would say it’s going to be good especially that he has Cespedes, you have Papi (David Ortiz), two guys who are going to keep you loose,” said Cano. “The fans here treat you so nice. … That’s something that as a player, that’s what you want.”
Even though Cespedes, Morales and Elias are from the same country as Castillo, they have not been able to watch him play in person since they left Cuba. Cano, however, had the opportunity during two workouts this winter in his home country of the Dominican Republic after Castillo defected.
Cano was wowed by the 5-foot-9-inch, 205-pound Castillo in running and throwing drills. Even though he said he couldn’t tell if Castillo will develop into a power hitter, he liked what he saw at the plate.
“It was batting practice, but he goes really well to the opposite field,” said Cano. “As a young kid or a player, you’re always trying to hit homers but he goes so naturally the other way. I was pretty impressed. And he’s not a big guy.”
The Red Sox hope Castillo will make his Major League debut in September. Just as the world will get to learn about Castillo in the big leagues, he will also learn about the pros himself.
There is just as much mystery as there is hype surrounding Castillo. He has not played in a game in nearly a year and a half. Since defecting from Cuba last December, he has been evaluated through workouts and talent showcases.
There are Major League players from the same country that have not competed against him in a few years. Another player who ran through drills with Castillo only caught a teaser of his potential, adding to the mystique of the outfielder. Who Castillo will develop into as a player is a question that had even those who know him buzzing in the midst of his record contract signing.
Cespedes played against Castillo for two years in Cuba on opposing teams. He has been a member of the Red Sox for less than a month and already sees Castillo as a fit for the organization.
“He was very calm, dedicated to his job in baseball,” Cespedes recalled. “I think he has all the qualities to help the team a lot, whether it’s on defense, running. I know he can hit the ball.”
Batting and speed was a resounding theme for those familiar with Castillo. Over the course of five seasons in Serie Nacional, Cuba’s major league, Castillo hit .319 with 75 doubles, 11 triples, and 51 home runs. He drew 99 walks, scored 256 runs, and stole 76 bases. During that time he also played second base, and those who have seen him in action believe those skills are transferable to centerfield.
“He’s very aggressive, very aggressive,” said Seattle's Elias, who knew Castillo in Cuba. “He likes strong baseball. He is aggressive with every pitch. He likes to run, he is very fast.”
The journey of Castillo in the Major Leagues is just beginning. While there are still many questions about the outfielder from Cuba, those who have had a look into his talent believe he will provide more than enough answers in his career.
“Now it’s time to work,” said Cano. “You got paid, you got your contract, now you know what you have to do.”
For his part, Castillo is already soaking in the advice he is receiving from fellow players.
"I spoke to Cespedes a little bit about this," he said at his introductory press conference. "He made me aware that it’s basically the same game we’ve played in Cuba and success here will come down to working and grinding away at a day-to-day level."
Castillo reported to the Red Sox spring training complex in Fort Myers Wednesday. According to an ESPN Boston report, Castillo has obtained his work visa for the United States and is now legally eligible to play for the Sox.