Pittsburgh Pirates fans need something positive to hang on to right about now.
Since Sunday, the Pirates have traded away All-Star second baseman Adam Frazier, closer Richard Rodriguez, left-handed starter Tyler Anderson, right-handed reliever Clay Holmes and lefty reliever Austin Davis.
The Pirates took a 38-74 record into Friday night’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies at PNC Park. That was the third-worst mark in the major leagues behind the Arizona Diamondbacks (32-71) and Baltimore Orioles (35-66).
Furthermore, the National League Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers came into Pittsburgh this week and showed the Pirates just how far away they are from being a contending team. The Brewers smacked the Pirates around, outscoring them 27-3 in a three-game series sweep.
The Pirates have undoubtedly bolstered their farm system since Ben Cherington became general manager in November 2019. However, a large majority of those prospects won’t reach Pittsburgh until at least some point next season.
In the here and now, the faithful need some hope. Maybe, just maybe, Rodolfo Castro can provide some.
Castro set a major league record Wednesday night when he hit two home runs against the Brewers. The 22-year-old switch-hitting infielder became the first player to have homers be each of the first five hits of his career. Colorado Rockies shortstop Trevor Story’s first four hits were home runs in 2016.
Baseball America had Castro ranked as the Pirates’ 22nd-best prospect coming into spring training. While the rating is notable, it’s far from meaning he is a can’t-miss player.
However, Castro has certainly raised his stock this season. He batted .300 with 11 homers in 53 games at Double-A Altoona and was hitting .208 with the five longballs through his first 10 major league games.
Castro’s five homers came in his first 23 plate appearances.
“It’s been an amazing feeling. If I can really find the words to describe it, I would,” Castro said through a translator. “All I can say is the first thing that crosses my mind is just all the work, all the effort, all the sacrifices. You capture moments like this, and it gives you a different perspective of how worth it and how valuable those sacrifices and that work and all that preparation (was).
“The fruits and the labor it provides to you in return. I’m feeling amazing right now. It’s an amazing feeling. The mindset is let’s keep it coming. Let’s continue forward.”
Manager Derek Shelton is obviously pleased with what he has seen of Castro,
“He continues to take good, aggressive swings,” Shelton said. “It’s something we saw him do in Altoona this year, but it’s very impressive. He’s got a ton of confidence.
“The only thing we’ve really talked to him about is make sure he’s the same guy here that he is in Altoona. Because in Altoona, he’s a leader. And he plays with a lot of energy. He continues to play with energy here. That’s really all we’ve asked.”
The question, of course, is can Castro use this record-breaking start as a springboard to potential stardom? Or is he just a flash in the pan who will have faded from memory in a few years?
Only time will tell but at least he is giving the fans something to cheer for during an otherwise dismal season.
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The biggest surprise of the trade deadline for the Pirates had to be Cherington flipping Davis to the Boston Red Sox for infielder/outfielder Michael Chavis.
Davis had a 5.59 ERA in 10 appearances for the Pirates this season. He was clearly expendable.
Chavis has struggled the last two seasons, hitting a combined .204 with seven home runs in 73 games for the Red Sox. However, he did have a .254 batting average and 18 homers in 95 games as a rookie in 2018.
Chavis is still relatively young at 25. He also offers flexibility as he has started games at first base (60), second base (48), left field (10) and third base (two) in the big leagues.
This could turn out to be a good trade.
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Since the Pirates were unable to trade right fielder Gregory Polanco by Friday’s 4 p.m. deadline, it will be interesting to see if they continue to play him regularly or open up at-bats for a youngster such as rookie Jared Oliva.
The Pirates will almost certainly not exercise their $12.5-million option on Polanco for next season. Thus, there seems little point for a rebuilding team to play a 29-year-old with a .202 batting average.
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John Perrotto has covered the Pittsburgh Pirates for various outlets since 1988. You can follow him on Twitter at @JPerrotto.