Vinicio Castilla Soria
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 1", Weight 185 lb.
- School Benito Juarez University
- High School Carlos Gracida Institute
- Debut September 1, 1991
- Final Game September 28, 2006
- Born July 4, 1967 in Oaxaca, Oaxaca Mexico
Among Mexican natives, Vinny Castilla is the all-time leader in several categories in Major League Baseball play. Castilla's career began inauspiciously with the Saltillo Saraperos. He hit .185/~.214/.259 in 27 AB in 1987, with no walks, runs or homers and one RBI. At age 20/21, he split the season between Saltillo and the Monclova Steelers and batted .242/~.288/.411 with 5 homers, 22 runs and 18 RBI in 124 AB as a shortstop. He continued to progress rapidly and in 1989 hit .307/~.346/.483 for Saltillo. He hit 13 triples, 10 homers, scored 70 and stole 11 bases, but was caught 12 times. Only Trench Davis, with 18 triples, had hit more. The power statistics were fairly impressive for a shortstop that age and the Atlanta Braves purchased his contract. Castilla had hit .289/~.339/.458 in the Mexican League.
In the Atlanta system
Castilla split the 1990 season between the Sumter Braves (.268/~.339/.404) and the Greenville Braves (.235/~.297/.347). A year later he hit .270/~.295/.440 for Greenville and .225/~.268/.375 for the Richmond Braves, homering 14 times and driving in 80. While his OBP was poor, his power continued to be good for a shortstop. He got a cup of coffee for the 1991 Braves in September, going 1 for 5 and being used primarily as a defensive substitute. As Richmond's full-time shortstop in 1992, his development slowed with a .252/~.285/.367 campaign in which he only hit 7 homers. He was 4 for 16 for Atlanta that year and was made available in the expansion draft.
Crushing the ball in Colorado
Selected by the new Colorado Rockies in the expansion draft, Vinny found a perfect outlet for his developing long-ball skills but it would still take a few more years of development. After a .255/.283/.404 season as the principal shortstop of the 1993 Rockies, Vinny hit .331/.357/.500 as a utility man for the 1994 Rockies. The raw statistics look very impressive given the high-offense environment but his OPS+ of 108 was also very nice for a backup infielder.
In 1995, Castilla hit 32 homers and batted .309/.347/.564 while moving to third base. He won his first Silver Slugger Award, made the All-Star team, was 6th in the NL in slugging, 7th in OPS, 5th in homers and 3rd in total bases (297). Factoring out the friendly home park, he still had a good 113 OPS+. Over the next three seasons, Vinny averaged almost 100 runs, hit at least 40 homers a year, drove in over 110, batted .300 and slugged at least .540. He was in the top 5 or 10 in several statistics each year. Some fans gave him too much credit, not properly considering Coors Field, while others attributed everything to Coors and neglected to note that many other players had worse statistics there and that his OPS+ went as high as 128. He made just one All-Star team in this time, showing that overall the impression was probably an accurate one. Castilla slipped drastically in 1999, with a 82 OPS+ and .275/.331/.478 unadjusted line. He hit "only" 33 homers, drove in "only" 102 and was not among the league leaders in anything.
The dark ages
Castilla signed with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for over $6 million in 2000, parlaying his friendly park in Colorado into nice money. As predicted by many statistically-minded fans, he fell flat on his face, with a wretched .221/.254/.308 year with just 6 homers. After a .215/.247/.344 start the next year, Vinny earned his walking papers. Signing with the Houston Astros, Castilla now showed the statistically-oriented crew to be wrong when they criticized this move as well. He batted .270/.320/.492 and homered 23 times in 122 games, showing that he could indeed hit with power outside of Coors. His OBP was poor for a corner infielder but he was resurgent.
With the park-inflation shown, Castilla couldn't get as much money and signed with the 2002 Braves for $3 million. After a bad .232/.268/.348 year, he bounced back at age 35/36, hitting .277/.310/.461 with 22 homers and a 101 OPS+.
The later years
Vinny continued to shuffle from club to club. He joined the Rockies again in 2004 and hit .271/.332/.535 for a 104 OPS+, his best mark in six years, since he had been in Colorado last. The veteran cracked 35 homers and 43 doubles and drove in 131 runners. He led the NL in RBI, was fourth in extra-base hits and 8th in total bases. He fielded .987 at third base, setting a new National League record for fielding percentage at third base. The mark stood for five years before being topped by Kevin Kouzmanoff.
He joined the new Washington Nationals the next season but at age 37/38, he hit .253/.319/.403 with 36 doubles and 12 homers. His OPS+ was 94, not bad for the position. He was also third in the NL with a .970 fielding percentage in 2005. After teams were criticized by users of sabermetrics for signing Castilla five years, he was showing that he could be an okay option at the hot corner and was far from abysmal outside of Coors Field, his Tampa Bay years excepted.
Following the 2005 season, Castilla was traded by the Nationals to the San Diego Padres for pitcher Brian Lawrence. He hit .232/.260/.319 with 4 homers in 72 games for the 2006 Padres before being released by the club in July. The next month, he returned to the Rockies, with the intention of retiring following the season. He batted .190/.227/.333 in 21 AB for the 2006 Rockies and called it quits.
Castilla led all Mexican natives in MLB in homers (320), RBI (1,105), hits (1,884), at-bats (6,822) and doubles (349) and was 95th all-time in MLB in home runs hit at the time his career ended. He was on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2012, but received only 6 votes and was dropped; however, even that slight total was the second-highest by a player whose name appeared on the ballot for the first time that year, as only Bernie Williams did better.
Castilla managed the Mexican national team in the 2007 Pan-American Games, when they earned a Bronze medal. The Rockies forbid him from managing Mexico in the 2008 Final Olympic Qualification Tournament so Jose Tolentino took his spot. Castilla was back in charge of Mexico by the 2009 World Baseball Classic, when they survived the first round but fell in the second round.
In 2012, he was a special assistant coach on the Rockies' major league coaching staff, keeping the job until the end of the 2015 season. In 2017, he was inducted into the Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame.
Sources include 1989 and 1991 Baseball Guides, 1992-1993 Baseball Almanacs, Viva Beisbol newsletter by Bruce Baskin (May 2006 edition) and The Mexican League: Comprehensive Player Statistics by Pedro Treto Cisneros
- 2-time NL All-Star (1995 & 1998)
- 3-time NL Silver Slugger Award Winner (1995, 1997 & 1998)
- NL RBI Leader (2004)
- 20-Home Run Seasons: 8 (1995-1999, 2001, 2003 & 2004)
- 30-Home Run Seasons: 6 (1995-1999 & 2004)
- 40-Home Run Seasons: 3 (1996-1998)
- 100 RBI Seasons: 5 (1996-1999 & 2004)
- 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 1 (1998)
- 200 Hits Seasons: 1 (1998)