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
Vinny Castilla is one of the greatest MLB position players to hail from Mexico. He slugged 320 home runs, hitting 40 or more homers in three straight seasons, and drove in 1,105 runs while establishing himself as one of the pillars of the Colorado Rockies' "Blake Street Bombers".
Vinny's career began inauspiciously with the Saltillo Saraperos of the Mexican League. He hit .185/~.214/.259 in 27 at bats in 1987, with no walks, runs scored 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 scored and 18 RBI in 124 at bats 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 times and stole 11 bases, but was caught 12 times. Only Trench Davis, with 18 triples, had hit more. The power numbers were fairly impressive for a shortstop that age and the Atlanta Braves purchased his contract. Overall, Castilla had hit .289/~.339/.458 in the Mexican League.
In the Atlanta system
Moving to the US and A, Vinny split the 1990 season between the Sumter Braves (.268/~.339/.404) and the Greenville Braves (.235/~.297/.347). A year later, in 1991, he hit .270/~.295/.440 for Greenville and .225/~.268/.375 for the Richmond Braves, homering 14 times and driving in 80 runs. While his OBP was poor, his power continued to be good for a shortstop. He got a cup of coffee for the 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 and was left unprotected for the expansion draft that was held after the season.
Crushing the ball in Colorado
Intrigued by his flashes of power, the Colorado Rockies took Vinny with the 40th pick in the expansion draft. He 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 line in 105 games as the principal shortstop of the inaugural Rockies squad in 1993, Vinny hit .331/.357/.500 in 52 games as a utility man in 1994. 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 was moved to third base and given 139 games of action. He responded quite well, belting 32 homers while batting .309/.347/.564. He won his first Silver Slugger Award and made his first All-Star team while finishing 6th in the National League 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+. In the 1995 NLDS, Colorado's first postseason appearance, Vinny did his job, batting .467/.500/1.333 with 3 home runs and 6 RBI, as the Rox bowed to eventual champion, Atlanta.
Over the next three seasons, Vinny's bat spit absolute hot fire. In 1996, he hit .304/.343/.548 with 40 home runs, 113 RBI, 34 doubles and 97 runs scored in 160 games. He did not let up as the calendar changed to 1997, hitting an almost mirror image .304/.356/.547 with an identical 40 home runs and 113 RBI, scoring 94 runs and bringing home his second Silver Slugger. In 1998, he went Emeril on everyone and "BAM!", kicked it up a notch. He came in hot by belting the first home run in the history of Chase Field, home to the new Arizona Diamondbacks, on Opening Day, surging to a .319/.362/.589 line with 46 home runs, 144 RBI, 108 runs scored and 206 hits while playing every game. He made a second All-Star appearance, won a third Silver Slugger and finished 11th in the NL MVP vote. In this three-years stretch, he had hit .309 with an average of 99 runs scored, 42 home runs and 123 RBI while finishing among many leaderboards with this offensive domination. Some fans gave him too much credit, not properly considering the help he received from 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.
In 1999, his bat cooled down, with an 82 OPS+ and .275/.331/.478 slash line. He hit "only" 33 homers, drove in "only" 102 runs and was not among the league leaders in anything. He did, however, take part in a rare MLB game to be staged in his native Mexico, going 4-for-5 with a double against the San Diego Padres on Opening Day, April 4th.
The dark ages and a return to Atlanta
It was time for Vinny to get PAID and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays were happy to oblige, signing him for over $6 million prior to the 2000 season. As predicted by many statistically-minded fans, his bat could not keep up at Tropicana Field, with a wretched .221/.254/.308 line and just 6 homers in only 85 games. After a .215/.247/.344 start through 24 games the next year, Vinny earned his walking papers. Signing with the Houston Astros, Castilla came back to life. 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 low for a corner infielder but he was back on track. Castilla was unable to command as much money in his second free agent rodeo, but he still made out with $3 million in a homecoming of sorts with the Atlanta Braves. After a tough .232/.268/.348 line with only 12 home runs in 2002, he bounced back at age 35/36, hitting .277/.310/.461 with 22 homers and a 101 OPS+ in 147 games in 2003.
Vinny made his final three postseason appearances during this stretch, never escaping an NLDS. In 2001 for the Astros, he hit .273 with a home run as, once again, he was eliminated from a postseason by Atlanta. Figuring now Atlanta could not eliminate him if he joined them, he was 11-for-34 (.323) in the two ensuing NLDSes, with a homer and 5 RBI, as San Francisco and Chicago eliminated his clubs in 2002 and 2003, respectively. For his career, he hit .350/.409/.617 with 5 home runs and 12 RBI in four Division Series.
The later years
Vinny was now firmly in the slow descent all veteran ballplayers find themselves caught in towards the end of line. But first, he re-joined the Rockies in 2004 and reaped the rewards Coors Field had to offer, hitting .271/.332/.535 for a 104 OPS+ in 148 games, his best mark in six years. He cracked 35 homers and 43 doubles and drove in a NL-leading 131 runs. He finished fourth in extra-base hits, 8th in total bases and fielded .987 at third base, setting a new NL record for the position. The mark stood for five years before being topped by Kevin Kouzmanoff.
Castilla was back in business and on the open market. He joined the new Washington Nationals the next season. His bat fell off, as he hit .253/.319/.403 with 36 doubles but only 12 homers in 2005. His OPS+ was 94, not bad, and he was third in the NL with a .970 fielding percentage. After teams were criticized by users of sabermetrics for signing Castilla for 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 season, he was dealt to the San Diego Padres for pitcher Brian Lawrence. He hit .232/.260/.319 with 4 homers in 72 games for the Friars in 2006 before being released in July. The next month, he made a final homecoming to the Rockies, with the intention of retiring following the season. He batted .190/.227/.333 in 21 at bats and called it quits.
Castilla leads 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; only Bernie Williams did better. In 2017, he was inducted into the Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame.
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. He then became a special assistant to GM Jeff Bridich.
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)