Adrian Del Castillo had a unique opportunity this offseason that he never envisioned would occur when the college baseball season ended prematurely last spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The University of Miami catcher noticed his friend and Miami teammate Anthony Vilar was working out with Kansas City Royals catching coach Pedro Grifol and star catcher Salvador Perez. Del Castillo reached out to Vilar and asked if he could observe a future workout to see how Perez conducted himself in individual workouts.
Del Castillo ended up joining the workouts and spent two months in the offseason working with Grifol and Perez. The experience was invaluable for Del Castillo. Perez is a premium defensive catcher who has won five Gold Gloves in his nine-year career. Perez also is a six-time All-Star, World Series champion and World Series MVP recipient.
“I thought I needed help as far as my defense behind the plate,” Del Castillo said. “That is one of the best guys to learn from. He has won multiple Gold Gloves. He’s won a World Series as well. He’s been in those hard situations that only he can talk about. I learned a lot from that. I also learned from him on how he works with pitchers and getting that bond with the pitchers.”
Del Castillo hopes his offseason work will show in his junior season. He believes he has refined his defensive abilities, especially his throws to second base and his receiving and blocking skills.
Del Castillo has been one of the best hitters in college baseball throughout his first two seasons at Miami. If he can show growth defensively this spring, Del Castillo will likely be one of the first players selected in July’s MLB draft. Professional scouts currently project Del Castillo as a potential top-15 pick.
This is Del Castillo’s second time going through the draft process. The Chicago White Sox selected Del Castillo in the 36th round of the 2018 draft. Del Castillo was a potential top-five-round prospect out of Gulliver Prep in Florida but wanted to attend Miami instead of starting a pro career out of high school.
“There isn’t much of a difference from high school to now with the draft,” Del Castillo said. “Honestly, that doesn’t cross my mind. That can wait until after the season. During the season, we just have to win. That is my mentality during the season.”
Del Castillo made an immediate impact as a freshman at Miami in 2019. He posted a .331 batting average with 22 doubles, 12 home runs, and 72 RBIs in 236 at-bats in 61 games. He also showed notable plate discipline, drawing 32 walks while striking out 24 times.
He was off to a scorching start last season before the season ended early due to the pandemic. In 16 games, he batted .358 with two doubles, one triple, two home runs, and 15 RBIs in 53 at-bats. He drew 11 walks and struck out eight times.
Del Castillo is a polished college hitter who offers an intriguing blend of average and power from the left side of the plate. The 5-foot-11, 208-pound catcher projects as a middle-of-the-order hitter in pro ball.
He has simple fundamentals at the plate. He deploys a mild leg kick, keeps his hand back, and uses a balanced weight transfer that allows him to have a compact swing and drive the ball to all parts of the field.
“My biggest strength is my hitting,” Del Castillo said. “I have had pretty good success in college so far. There is still more room to grow with hitting and really everything. I feel like hitting is my biggest strength.”
While scouts believe Del Castillo will hit in the pro ranks, his future defensive position is in question. Del Castillo thinks he can remain at catcher long-term, especially after the work he put in during the offseason.
In previous seasons, Del Castillo displayed an accurate arm but only average arm strength. His blocking and receiving skills also haven’t been at the level scouts have sought.
Most scouts believe Del Castillo might be a better fit at first base or left field. Del Castillo hopes to prove them wrong this spring and remain at catcher in pro ball.
“I want to keep up with working on my defense,” Del Castillo said. “Mostly just stretching and receiving are two areas I will work on between now and the season. Nothing crazy. I want to start running too, so I can build the stamina I need for the season.”
Miami was Del Castillo’s dream school growing up. He attended high school less than 10 minutes from Miami’s campus and envisioned himself playing at Miami since he was a youngster.
This season will be a special year for the Del Castillo family. Del Castillo’s brother, Christian, is a graduated transfer at Miami after spending the last four years at Seton Hall. Del Castillo is eager for the chance to play with his brother this spring.
“It is awesome,” Del Castillo said. “My family is ecstatic about it. They love it. My grandparents love it as well.”
Miami will enter the spring as a potential top-25 team. The Hurricanes lost a significant amount of talent in the offseason to pro ball, including their top two pitchers in Chris McMahon and Slade Cecconi.
The Hurricanes qualified for the NCAA tournament in 2019 after a two-year absence. They haven’t made it to the College World Series since 2016, but Del Castillo believes Miami has the pieces to have a talented and successful year this season.
“I hope we can get to Omaha,” Del Castillo said. “We all wanted to go to Omaha last year, but it got cut short. We have some unfinished business. We have to go there now. As far as myself, I want to play a role. I want to do my job to help the team.”
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for six years. He’s interviewed 253 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he’s appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.