Going, going, gone can describe both Keith Castillo’s first professional at-bat in the Tampa Bay Rays organization and his experience in the 2011 California Winter League.
After four successful years at USC, Keith knew he wanted to follow in his father Tony’s footsteps and play in the bigs, but despite his father’s status, Keith wasn’t even offered a bus ticket to the minors.
He knew that if he was just given the opportunity to show he could be a factor in a major league organization then he could prove that he was the real deal. So the switch-hitting catcher made sure he took advantage of every chance he could find to get noticed. This is why he joined the CWL. The CWL gave him the opportunity to sharpen his skills and play in front of major league scouts on a daily basis.
After playing in the CWL this past 2011 season, Keith became the first free agent of the season to sign with a Major League Baseball organization. Just three weeks after his arrival in Palm Springs the un-drafted graduate of USC was signed by the Tampa Bay Rays. Castillo mentioned that the CWL gave him the opportunity to play in front of a different Rays scout than had watched him at Southern Cal. He believes this new exposure from the CWL was a major factor in his getting signed.
On June 26th, 2011, Keith was moved from extended spring training to the Rays class A affiliate team, the Bowling Green Hot Rods. That night he was put in the starting line-up in the number eight spot as the designated hitter. In the second inning, when Keith came to the plate for his first professional at-bat he had one thing on his mind: proving he was the real deal. With one out and a runner on first, Keith said he kept thinking about what he learned in the CWL: “Be aggressive.” Luckily, this also happens to be the same philosophy the Rays have. As the pitcher fired the ball home Keith applied the “be aggressive” philosophy and hit it going, going, gone, living the dream of every perspective professional baseball player.
That night, Keith Castillo certainly made an impression on the Hot Rods staff and continues to do so, delivering for the team almost a month later. As of July 17th, he leads the team with a batting average just over .300 and is a regular starter.
While Keith’s story of a home run in his first ever professional at bat might be a little uncommon, his story of success after playing in the CWL is definitely not. Keith is just one of many players that have come to the CWL searching for someone to give them their shot. He credits the opportunity he has been given to play in the Rays organization to his time in the CWL, but the original decision to not give up, keep improving, and coming to Palm Springs was made by him.