Despite poor defense, Willi Castro is Detroit Tigers shortstop. Here's AJ Hinch's plan

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Evan Petzold, Detroit Free Press
·4 min read
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LAKELAND, Fla. — Detroit Tigers infielder Willi Castro recently had his braces removed. He flashed a sharp smile Wednesday afternoon, fielding ground balls and firing them to first baseman Miguel Cabrera.

Beyond the braces, the 23-year-old is losing the training wheels.

The Tigers are confidently moving forward with him as their shortstop, despite concerns about his throwing accuracy. Entering his first full season (and third total) in the majors, Castro understands the uncertainties, so "it means a lot" to him that the organization is spotlighting his long-term potential.

It seems he would be best suited for second base, a much shorter distance to first base, but manager AJ Hinch thinks otherwise.

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"Defensively, he's got the attributes to be an everyday shortstop and be consistent," Hinch said Wednesday. "We've got to give him time and experience to develop that. And then offensively, he's got a little flick. The ball sounds a little different off his bat, in a good way."

Detroit Tigers manager A.J. Hinch and infielder Willi Castro on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021 on the Tiger Town practice fields in Lakeland, Florida.
Detroit Tigers manager A.J. Hinch and infielder Willi Castro on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021 on the Tiger Town practice fields in Lakeland, Florida.

His minus-seven DRS — a number to show how many runs a player has, or hasn't, saved on defense — needs to improve, otherwise a transition to second base will be inevitable at some point in his career. He had five errors at shortstop in 85 chances.

But if Castro produces offensively as he did last year, keeping a spot open for him in the lineup won't be a problem. The switch-hitter went 45-for-129 (.349) with six homers and 24 RBIs. He had a .381 on-base percentage and a .550 slugging percentage, chipping in seven walks and 38 strikeouts.

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"My confidence at the plate, focusing on that pitch that I want to hit, that I don't want to miss," Castro said Wednesday. "The approach that I had last year was just focusing on that good pitch to hit, and I think that was a big confidence, just to believe in yourself."

For Castro's throwing motion, positioning his body properly is key to staying on target.

Hinch wants to see progress, but he isn't demanding perfection.

"Where he fields the ball, when he's at center of gravity (and) middle of his body, that actually helps his throwing," Hinch said. "A lot of people won't associate that. They only watch the throw from the time the ball is up, but it starts with your feet and where you position yourself to field the ball.

"You can't lose the athlete by trying to be mechanical and trying to do things too perfectly. He is a fluid athlete, but consistently is always the next step for a young player that gets to the big leagues and is learning his way."

Flamethrower is here

Left-hander Gregory Soto arrived to camp Wednesday, after finishing the COVID-19 intake screening process. The hard-throwing 26-year-old took part in warmups as a full participant and will throw live to hitters Thursday.

He is back from an offseason stint in the Dominican Republic, where he secured the Dominican Winter League championship for Águilas Cibaeñas. Last year, Soto had a 4.30 ERA in 23 innings, with 29 strikeouts and 13 walks. He is now competing for the closer role.

"Congratulations to the hitters that draw him tomorrow," Hinch said. "He's game ready."

Injury update

Detroit Tigers outfielder Daz Cameron fields ground balls Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021 on the Tiger Town practice fields in Lakeland, Fla.
Detroit Tigers outfielder Daz Cameron fields ground balls Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021 on the Tiger Town practice fields in Lakeland, Fla.

Outfielder Daz Cameron sustained an elbow injury in December playing in Puerto Rico.

The 24-year-old prospect remains limited in spring training workouts. On Wednesday, he stood in the batter's box to track pitches from big-league arms, but he did not swing.

"He's increasing his activities," Hinch said. "We're hoping to get him on the field to take batting practice in the coming days."

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers' Willi Castro is thankful for everyday shortstop job