Detroit Tigers' Harold Castro keeps on hitting. So how will he fit in this lineup?

Anthony Fenech
Detroit Free Press

A couple of weeks ago, when Miguel Cabrera was tuning up for summer camp at a local batting cage, he brought a Detroit Tigers teammate with him: Harold Castro.

This was not by accident: Castro, who hit .291 as a rookie last season, can play. He is a solid contact hitter who works counts and always seems to do something right.

And Castro has continued progressing in the first week of intrasquad games, seemingly getting on base every time he’s at the plate. Castro recorded two more hits on Friday afternoon and now has six in three games.

“We like this kid a lot,” manager Ron Gardenhire said on Thursday. “He can hit. He gets the barrel to the ball and we like the kid an awful lot and I like the way he goes about his business.”

[ Tigers scrimmage observations: Matt Manning wild; Harold, Willi Castro impress ]

Castro didn’t hit for much power in 2019 — just 19 extra-base hits in 354 at-bats — but the bat-to-ball skills Gardenhire speaks of — and Castro’s overall contact game — point to an intriguing offensive player.

Castro hit five home runs last season. His on-base percentage was .304 and his slugging percentage .384, both well under the standards needed to be an everyday player. And perhaps, most importantly, Castro needs to take more walks. He struck out 86 times last season as opposed to walking only nine times.

On Friday, after a pair of hits, Castro walked. And his mere presence with Cabrera at the batting cages has paid dividends.

“That’s helped me a lot,” Castro said. “Everything you can take from Miggy, that’s going to help, either way, hitting or defensively, always that’s going to help you. I try to take every single word that he says to me. I’ve been working with him and I think that helps me be more comfortable, too.”

Castro, 26, will likely fill a role similar to that of Niko Goodrum last season as the Tigers’ super-utility man. Perhaps, like Goodrum, he will emerge in a different role as team’s rebuilding process wears on.

Tigers second baseman Harold Castro bats during the intrasquad game at Comerica Park on Friday, July 10, 2020.

[ Tigers to livestream intrasquad games beginning Saturday ]

“I’m just prepared to do what the manager wants me to do and play any position that I can,” Castro said. “Because I played in the big leagues two times and I played here a lot last year, that helped me be more comfortable.”

Castro swings left-handed and though Gardenhire hasn’t spoken extensively about his Opening Day starting lineup against the Reds on July 24, Castro could provide him with an option for the No. 2 hole in certain matchups, allowing Jonathan Schoop to add power in the middle of the order.

Regardless, Castro figures to get some serious playing time this season. He has experience in both the infield and outfield.

“You need those hitters off the bench, too,” Gardenhire said. “And a guy that can step out and fill a hole — you have somebody that goes down and he can play just about anywhere. Those are important people and he brings us versatility.”

[ Casey Mize takes on Miguel Cabrera with no fear: 'He was filthy' ]

With Castro, it’s easy to look at the numbers — he wasn’t outstanding offensively as a minor-leaguer, either — and dismiss his potential. But he has shown no fear — he arrived mid-game in Philadelphia last season and picked up a pinch-hit single innings later — and can grind out at-bats: Castro's eight-pitch at-bat against Cleveland's Mike Clevinger on Sept. 19 comes to mind. 

Detroit Tigers third baseman Harold Castro bats during summer camp at Comerica Park in Detroit, Tuesday, July 7, 2020.

His skills seem to be undervalued in today’s game, not flashy but impacting the game. Still, he needs more power or better plate discipline to take the next step — nevertheless,  the 26-year-old is learning, and players who can naturally hit .300 don’t grow on trees.

His ability to hit left-handed pitching has stood out early in camp: Four of his six hits have come against lefties.

“I just feel good,” he said. “Like I said, I have more games playing every position so that’s helped me keep doing that and practicing it every day and learning every position, that’s going to help me to keep playing.”

And certainly, if he keeps hitting like this, he will have no problem, either.

Contact Anthony Fenech at afenech@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @anthonyfenech. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.