If you’re willing to believe in Willi Castro (and you should), everything changes – Twins

If you’re willing to believe in Willi Castro (and you should), everything changes – Twins

We know we should pay more attention to Willi Castro. Over the past year and a half, he’s consistently been one of the Twins’ most valuable players, whether you measure by new-school metrics (WAR, WPA) or old-school (batting out, defensive flexibility ). But the fact that he played a utilitarian role and that this breakthrough performance was (mostly) unexpected means that he tends to get overlooked, even when we don’t want him to.

That could end, at least for 2024. With Edouard Julien in Triple-A and Brooks Lee’s season starting late due to a herniated disc, we know where we’ll find Castro for the foreseeable future: playing second base. Perhaps more importantly, we also now find him, with his .350 OBP, at the top of the lineup.

So, over the next few weeks, the Twins will have a defensive second baseman and leadoff hitter who has posted a 113 OPS+ over the last two years. He also leads the Twins in games played during that span. He is also 27 years old.

It doesn’t look like a utility player. This looks like a regular, and maybe even one a team builds around. If you and the Twins are ready to see Castro as an everyday starter, several twists and turns regarding the Twins’ future lineup emerge.

Castro passed four prospects
If Castro gets the top spot, no matter what position he plays, he will have to stay in the lineup. That means the Twins have four highly regarded (or formerly highly regarded) prospects in St. Paul who are all competing for a spot this year. Matt Wallner, Alex Kirilloff, Julien and Lee are all competing for a semi-open spot in left field or second base. Castro can take any remaining spot, but he won’t be replaced or lose at bats when he does. His hitting stick at the top of the lineup is the priority.

Will the twins leave good enough alone?
Baseball teams and players don’t like to play with something that works. So if Willi Castro continues to thrive while playing solid second base, especially when he’s leading off, how tempted will the Twins be to leave him there?

This could be especially true if Wallner finds his way back to a corner of the outfield and recreates last year’s success. Or, if Austin Martin shows the ability to consistently hold down a corner spot in the outfield. Once the spot in the left field corner is secured, where will the Twins’ leadoff hitter play, if not at second base?

Where does that leave Julien and Lee?
The Twins clearly believe in Edouard Julien and Brooks Lee, and for good reason. But in the short term, will they be better ranked than Castro? Does this short-term thinking stop after the 2024 season, or does it extend into the 2025 season? Or beyond?

While we’re on a roll of question marks, let’s see how many more we can add in this section. Given the glut of prospects fighting for a single roster spot, at what point do the Twins start viewing some of that depth as redundant? Or, if “redundant” is too strong a word, when does it allow them to at least loosen their grip a little during trade deadline negotiations? Do the Twins believe in Castro enough to consider trading some of their top infield prospects?

(Do you?)

These questions also become a little more complicated when looking ahead to the 2025 season. Additional spots will open up next year, when Max Kepler and Carlos Santana will likely no longer be on the team. Additionally, there could be another open spot in 2026, as Castro will become a free agent after the 2025 season. Which raises perhaps the biggest question…

Does a contract extension make sense for both parties?
This year, the Twins will have their last chance to offer Castro arbitration, where we can estimate he will earn around $5-7 million. That’s a considerable amount of money for a utility infielder, but a bargain for a second baseman rising to the top of the batting order. The Twins should be very interested in signing this player to an extension that pays him for the remainder of his prime years.

Especially because these years of excellence are now and in the near future, not in the past. Castro is only 27 years old, which is great news for the Twins, but better news for Castro, as he will hit the open market at 28, giving him a golden opportunity to sign a multi-year contract .

It’s hard enough to get a player a contract extension a year before free agency. Given his age and breakthrough successes, Castro would likely be advised to pursue tough negotiations, rather than miss his chance at the free market. On the other hand, he may have the same perception problem with the rest of the league that we struggle with: he’s “just” a utility player. Given his track record so far, four years of guaranteed money could be attractive.

Whether or not this is a possibility is a major factor in most of the questions above. If Castro is determined to become a free agent at the end of 2025, his future value is limited, compared to the various prospects in question. Additionally, keeping Castro in his utility role and providing prospects for a full-time position makes much more sense. A key element in deciding whether to prioritize Castro over some of the above (or not) is the extent to which they view him as keepable beyond 2025 and projectable in the early years of this period.

How far should the twins go?
It’s one thing to say “we should all pay more attention to Willi Castro.” It’s another to understand what that means and adjust your thinking about his place in the future Twins lineup. Committing to that future by extending your contract or trading a valuable prospect is a big step forward.

But Castro deserved this consideration. Perhaps our expectations and the traditional label of “utility infielder” blind us to his value. The Twins (and Twins fans, as well as Twins Daily) pride themselves on recognizing market inefficiencies in MLB and taking advantage of them. It’s no coincidence that Castro is about to set a new benchmark for positional flexibility over the course of a season, previously approached only by two other Twins super-utility guys. It appears the Twins have a blind spot within their own organization and need to explore a direction accordingly.

How far would you go?