Wilson: Criticism of Castillo intended as challenge
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Jack Wilson was taking none of it back.
The Pirates' outspoken shortstop stood by every syllable of the critical comments he made about teammate Jose Castillo during a televised interview Friday, from his view that Castillo was lazy at times to his pointing out that Castillo was not in peak physical shape.
But Wilson, in a phone interview last night from his California home, stressed that his motivation for speaking out was to see the team and Castillo reach their full potential.
"Everything I said that night, I've been saying to Jose for three years. And I don't regret it," Wilson said. "But I do want people to understand why I said it, and that's because here we are, all of a sudden, with a chance for the Pittsburgh Pirates to be competitive with the lineup we have. And can you imagine what we would do if Jose could put up the numbers we all know he can have?"
Wilson reiterated his view that the Pirates can be far more competitive in 2007 because of the acquisition of first baseman Adam LaRoche two weeks ago.
"It's the best team we've had in my six years, by far, bar none. And it has a chance to be remarkable, the kind of team that Pittsburgh's been wanting to see for a long time. That's what I care about. I'm ready to bust my butt going into this season, and I'm hoping Jose is, too, because ... if he has a good year, we're all going to have a really good year."
Wilson seemed stung by some criticism he heard and read that he was out of line to call out a teammate, the consensus of those critics being that his performance last season (.273 average, 35 RBIs, 18 errors) was not much better than that of Castillo (.253, 65 RBIs, 18 errors).
Again, Wilson made no apology.
"Look, I'm harder on myself than anyone. I'm coming off a bad season. But that doesn't mean I didn't show up at the yard. And you know what? I think we have five or six leaders on this team, and I feel like I've been around long enough at shortstop to be the leader of Jose Castillo. It's my job to break in the second baseman. And it's so frustrating to watch him not be the player that I know he can be."
Having joined the Pirates in a July 2000 trade, Wilson is the franchise's most tenured player. He also was an All-Star three seasons ago and has finished second in Gold Glove voting three times.
Wilson has tried to call Castillo in his native Venezuela in an attempt to explain his comments, which have been rebroadcast and reprinted in several media outlets the past few days, but he has yet to make contact.
"I don't know if he's even heard about it, but I don't want him to get the wrong idea if he has. We'll be just fine when we talk, which we will. I love Jose. I think he's a great guy. I love working with him. I love the way we play up the middle. The things we can do together sometimes are, I believe, better than anybody else. But that's what makes me expect more. I don't see Jose Castillo as an average major-league player or as just a good defender. I see him as a potential star."
There are many Major League Baseball talent evaluators who feel likewise, even though Castillo, 25, largely has been a disappointment in three full seasons as the Pirates' second baseman: He has a .258 career average, and his career-high 14 home runs last season are about 10 shy of what many believe he could achieve with better preparation, mentally and physically. And expectations are no lower for his defense.
"I watch this kid and what he does in batting practice, I see what he does in the field when he's just goofing around, and I think there's nobody like him in baseball at that position," Wilson said. "He can be a Jeff Kent-type of offensive player and Pokey Reese with the glove. Jose can be better than both, actually. He has that type of potential, to be a middle-of-the-order guy. And you know what? I'm sure he's going to be that someday. I have no doubt about that. My thing is, I want it to happen this year. Right now."
As it is, Castillo will be fighting for his job this spring. As management made clear a month ago, Castillo and Jose Bautista will duel for the final infield starting spot this spring. If Castillo wins, he will stay at second and Freddy Sanchez will stay at third. If Bautista wins, he will take third and Sanchez will shift to second.
Wilson did allow to having one somewhat selfish motivation for his comments.
"Dude, I want to win," he said. "And this is how I look at it: If this team fails, I'm the first one to go. Maybe it will become a salary issue, and who's No. 1 on the salary list? Me. Well, I don't want to go anywhere. I signed this contract for a reason, and that's to win right where I am."
The three-year, $20.2 million extension Wilson signed last spring calls for a $5.25 million salary this season, highest on the team.
"With Freddy Sanchez here and Jason Bay ... once LaRoche came on board, this became a team that can win, in my eyes," Wilson said. "This is the first time I feel we've got a legitimate shot, like we can compete every day with the best teams out there."
"If everybody just does what they're supposed to do."
NOTES -- The Pirates have received the dates for their four scheduled salary arbitration hearings: Sanchez is Feb. 8, LaRoche Feb. 13, Castillo Feb. 14 and reliever John Grabow Feb. 19. Parties can agree on contracts at any point before the hearing. ... Ian Snell, who went 14-11 in his first full season as a starter for the Pirates, was named Delaware athlete of the year for 2006 by the Delaware Sportswriters and Broadcasters Association at its 58th annual banquet Sunday night. Snell is a 2000 graduate of Caesar Rodney High School near Dover, Del.Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
Having joined the Pirates in a 2000 trade, Jack Wilson is the Pirates' most tenured player.
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First Published January 30, 2007 12:00 am