All-Fish Team: 1 - Luis Castillo

To hold us over the course of the long MLB offseason, I will be featuring a series of articles in a once-a-week segment labeled the All-Fish Team. Before writing these pieces, I will poll my Twitter audience (if you don’t already follow me, follow @marlinsminors to participate) asking whom they think was the best player to wear a specefic jersey number. The winner’s career as a Marlin and before and/or after will then be detailed in the feature length post.

Earlier this week, I held our first poll, querying whom you think was the greatest Marlin to wear #1. The winner, in resounding fashion, was Luis Castillo.

After being glossed over during the draft Castillo was signed non-drafted free agent at the age of 16. Despite plus speed, scouts doubted the soft hitting Castillo’s ability to contribute on the plus level from the bat at the major league level. Castillo responded to skeptics beginning in his very first season in 1994 by hitting .264/.371/.301 for the GCL Marlins while walking more than he struck out (37/36 BB/K, the former of which ranked third in his league). Putting on display an attribute that was never a product up for discussion, his plus plus speed, Castillo stole 31 bases, third most in the Gulf Coast League. Those 31 steals came on 43 tries, giving Luis a 72% success rate and setting the tone for an amazing career on the bases.

In 1995, Castillo made the move to low A where, with Kane County, he hit .326/.419/.362. The adjustments made by Castillo in his second year as a pro were unmistakable. In 142 more plate appearances, he more than doubled his hit total from his true rookie season, going 111 for 340. The walks still came at a fantastic rate of 16% and his speed was still plenty abundant as he stole 41 bags (a total which ranked fourth in the Midwest League) in 60 tries (68% success rate). His BA (.327) and OBP (.419) both ranked 5th in the Midwest League.

In his third year in the professional ranks in ’96, Castillo saw his most extensive time on the field, playing in 109 games and seeing 495 ABs. He responded by posting a .317/.411/.393 line at the highest level he had ever played at. That year with the Portland Sea Dogs, his .317 BA ranked 8th, his .411 OBP ranked 6th and the speed kept coming as he stole a league high 28 bags. He also walked 66 times, eighth most in the Eastern League. Those exports earned his initial major league call-up as he reached the Marlins that August. In 41 games with the Fish, he hit .262/.320/.305 with 46 Ks to just 14 walks. With that cup of coffee, the 20-year-old, who had only struck out 2 times more than he walked in 495 AA plate appearances in the minors that year and had been boasting a 163/153 K/BB in his career to this point, already seemed to be destined for great things.

Those great things came the next season where in 1997, the 21-year-old made it back to to the majors with the Fish out of camp. He enjoyed a great month of April, a month in which he reached safely in 21 of 23 games which included him hitting safely in seven of his first eight MLB games to open the season (a 12-37 run) and beginning to May as he hit an overall .289/.357/.325 and stole 11 bags out of the top of the Marlins’ lineup and and looked to be on his way to fulfiling his potential. However, on May 6th, he was placed on the DL with a troublesome bruised left heel. He missed nearly the rest of the month of May, not returning until the 23rd. From there, Castillo struggled to get things going again. He hit just .200/.272/.227 and stole just five bags from that point until July 27th. On June 28th, the Marlins optioned Castillo back to AAA which left him off that season’s World Series roster. He lived out the rest of the year getting his legs back under him by hitting .354/.425/.392 with the Charlotte Knights.

After selling off that entire World Series winning team in the first of two infamous post-series winning Marlins firesales in 1998, Florida was very cautious with the health of one of their best young assets, leaving him in AAA for the majority of the year even after he reached safely in 32 straight games from May 24th to July 3rd and hit an overall .287/.403/.326. Amongst batters with at least 300 ABs, that OBP ranked 12th in the International League. He also racked up 41 steals, second most in the IL. Castillo finally returned to the Marlins as a cup of coffee recipient in August. In 153 ABs, he hit .203/.307/.268.

In 1999, a 23-year-old Castillo made his second Opening Day roster. This time, he stuck around for good. Over the course of the next six seasons, he turned himself into a fan favorite, one of the best second basemen in baseball and one of its fastest base burglars. From ’99 to 2004, Castillo had the best OBP of all major leaguers to regularly man the number four position. Additionally, his .302 BA ranked fourth in MLB. On the basepaths, Luis blew the rest of his competition away. Over this six year span, he stole an average of 39 bases for a total of 235. Tony Womack, who stole 213 bases was second on the stolen base leaderboard. Defensively, his +16 DRS ranked fourth, his +13 UZR and +19.5 Def rating both third. He saved 4.4 runs on double plays, a metric which ranked second in baseball.

For the 2003 World Series winning Marlins, Castillo was a key contributor. Playing in 152 of 162 games, he led the team in BA (.314, a mark which also made him the fourth best hitting 2B in MLB) as did his .381 OBP out of the leadoff spot. His .397 SLG was a career high. As well as being selected to his second All-Star team that season, Castillo won the NL Gold Glove at second base by saving nine runs, saving two runs on double plays and by posting an +11.5 UZR and a +12.7 Def rating. His exports as a whole earned him a small share (2%) of first place MVP votes.

After another All-Star (.301/.362/.359 and a career high 108 OPS+) and Gold Glove winning (+7 DRS, +2 DPR, +10.4 UZR, +12.1 Def) season in 2005, Castillo’s Marlins career came to an end. His career sort of fizzled out thereafter as he posted a .285/.362/.341 slash line and stole just 89 bases over that four year span. Defensively, Castillo’s game took a huge hit away from Miami as he never again posted a positive DRS and instead posted numbers as ugly as a -13. His best season UZR wise over that span was a meager +2.8 and his best Def. rating in a season was a +3.8.

Despite all of this though, Castillo’s legacy was cemented because of what he did in teal and black. He ended his career after the 2010 season at age 35 with a career .290 BA, which ranked 43rd all time among second basemen, and a .368 OBP which ranks 32nd in that same regard. In the stolen base category, Castillo is the 17th best second baseman all time with 370.

When it comes to Marlins career franchise records, Castillo is present in nearly every major leaderboard. To this day, he ranks as the franchise’s third best WAR player at a +22.3, it’s fourth best defensive WAR player at +3.6, its sixth best career hitter by batting average (.293, by way of a franchise most 1273 hits) and its fifth best by OBP (.370). All of those career records came as he played in the most franchise games (1128), saw its most ABs (4347) and made its most plate appearances (4966). He also owns the record for most total runs scored by a Marlin (675), the record for triples (42), the record for walks (533), and of course stolen bases (281). His reputation as a catalyst is cemented by the fact that he was on base a franchise most 1,814 times as a Fish and has the club record for most sacrifice hits (65). When it came to patience, Castillo was one of the best hitters the Marlins have ever seen. He went nearly seven ABs in between strikeouts in his Miami career, a mark which ranks fourth best in franchise history. The accolades keep coming for Castillo as a Marlins’ defender. His +23.4 UZR is a franchise best, His +23 DRS is second second best in team history as is his +31.7 Def. rating as well as his 6.4 DPR.

With one of the best all-around skill sets of any second baseman in the league during his tenure as a Marlin, Castillo makes our list as the unanimous favorite for best Marlin to ever don the number 1.

Cast your votes on Twitter and join me here in the coming week where I will add the best wearer of the number 2 to our all-time franchise team.