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Cora still believes Rusney can be a big leaguer

Cuban outfielder has not played in Majors since 2016
Special to MLB.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Outfielder Rusney Castillo has been an enigma for the Red Sox since then-general manager Ben Cherington signed him in 2014 out of Cuba to a seven-year, $72.5 million contract.

Castillo, 30, has played just 99 Major League games, none since 2016. He was placed on waivers in June that season, cleared waivers and was assigned to Triple-A Pawtucket, where he has been ever since.

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Outfielder Rusney Castillo has been an enigma for the Red Sox since then-general manager Ben Cherington signed him in 2014 out of Cuba to a seven-year, $72.5 million contract.

Castillo, 30, has played just 99 Major League games, none since 2016. He was placed on waivers in June that season, cleared waivers and was assigned to Triple-A Pawtucket, where he has been ever since.

Still due to be paid $11 million this season and in 2019, and $13.5 million in '20, the final year of his deal, Castillo is in camp as a non-roster invitee. Manager Alex Cora knows Castillo as well as anyone from their time together with Criollos de Caguas of the Puerto Rican Winter League.

"All he wants to do is play baseball, and this is since I met him a while ago until now," Cora said. "The conversations I have with him, you go back to where he's coming from [to] where he is now. It's night and day, from where he grew up to be here and to be part of a big league organization and, obviously, signing a big contract. He's thankful. He doesn't talk about anything else ... just to play baseball."

Cora believes Castillo can still be a Major League player.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"He's going back to the player I saw earlier, when he played for Caguas down there," Cora said. "But he was a guy that was driving the ball to right-center. He was very athletic. He was actually the best player in the league. And then, like everybody else, you start making adjustments and sometimes you start listening to people outside of the organization, and you start making adjustments that probably you didn't have to make. And he wasn't hitting the ball in the air.

"He started rolling over, rolling over ... and he took a few steps backwards. I mentioned to him, 'Hey, man, your strength is to right-center -- so either you back off the plate or you lay off the fastball inside.' And he's done a good job with it. I think he had a good Triple-A season last year."

But there is still work to be done.

"You could see there was an at-bat early in camp that reminded me of the player that a lot of people saw two years ago, the rolling over, ground ball to third," Cora said. "We talked to him [and said], 'If you control the at-bat with nobody on, why are you not going to control the at bat with men in scoring position?' And he's done a good job.

"Defensively, he's great. I think right field, center field, his arm plays [well]. And he's a better baserunner than what people think. He still has his lapses. Sometimes I [have] got to get on him. But so far, so good. Everything you can ask about him, he's done it."

Top Four

Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Hanley Ramirez and J.D. Martinez were the first four hitters in the lineup for Saturday's rain-shortened game against the Twins. Could that be the Opening Day configuration?

Video: BOS@BAL: Benintendi crushes a two-run jack to right

"It might be, I feel very comfortable with the Top 2," Cora said. "The way Benny [approaches things], we showed him some information in the offseason, and he's taken it to the at-bats. You see him hunting for a certain pitch in a certain spot -- and if it's there, he's swinging and putting a good swing on it.

"The whole Hanley, Mitch [Moreland], J.D. situation, we [have] got to feel comfortable. Do we want J.D. with nobody on with two outs in the first inning or do we want J.D. [with a] man on, two outs the first inning, or do we want J.D. to lead off the second inning? It's a work in progress."

Pitching updates

• Cora said if left-hander Drew Pomeranz continues to progress from the mild flexor tendon strain, he could pitch two innings of live batting practice on Wednesday or Thursday.

• Cora said left-hander Roenis Elias is no longer being stretched out as a starting pitcher. Elias has made some adjustments to his delivery against left-handed batters, dropping down sidearm. Cora wants to see Elias be more consistent with his release point and delivery.

Up next:

Right-hander Rick Porcello is scheduled to start on Sunday when the Red Sox host the Orioles at 1:05 p.m. ET. This will be Porcello's second Grapefruit League start. He went two scoreless innings against the Astros on March 1, giving up two hits with no walks and four strikeouts. Right-handers Heath Hembree, Hector Vazquez and Ty Buttrey are also expected to pitch for the Red Sox. Right-hander Hunter Harvey is scheduled to start for the Orioles, followed by right-hander Jhan Marinez and left-hander Tanner Scott.

Maureen Mullen is a contributor to MLB.com who covered the Red Sox on Saturday.

Boston Red Sox, Andrew Benintendi, Rusney Castillo