Rusney Castillo ready for Red Sox

PITTSBURGH -- For the Boston Red Sox, there has never been a debut quite like it. Rusney Castillo is not the first player to come to the Sox from a foreign land accompanied by some mystery and intrigue -- Daisuke Matsuzaka comes to mind.

But unlike Castillo, Matsuzaka was not a year and a half removed from competition when he arrived in 2007. Matsuzaka did not play in a place where the eyes of major league scouts were not welcome, as Castillo did in Cuba. And the Japanese pitcher did not parachute into a season in progress, the way Castillo is about to, then undergo his American-style baptism into baseball by playing on three different levels of the Red Sox minor league system.

And Wednesday night, according to manager John Farrell, Castillo, who signed a seven-year, $72.5 million contract last month, will make his major league debut in Pittsburgh's PNC Park, a jewel of a ballpark with a spectacular bridge-bedecked backdrop far removed from the dusty fields of Ciego de Avila, the city of his birth and the place where he cut his baseball teeth in the Series Nacionale, Cuba's national league.

"He's an electric player with a lot of skills -- he's explosive, quick-twitch," Farrell said here Tuesday. "We're looking forward to seeing him in this park."

Castillo had one last obligation to fulfill before heading to Pittsburgh. On Tuesday night, he was in Charlotte, North Carolina with the Pawtucket Red Sox, winners of the International League, who were playing the Omaha Storm Chasers, champions of the Pacific Coast League, in the Triple-A title game.

Castillo, who played center field and batted first for the PawSox, led off the game with a home run, his first as a U.S. professional. Farrell said Castillo will play center field here Wednesday night, but said his spot in the lineup was yet to be determined.

Castillo, who has celebrity representation in Roc Nation Sports, the agency that falls under the umbrella of Jay Z's entertainment empire, will be wearing No. 38, the number he wore in Cuba and the number famously worn by Curt Schilling in Boston. He is not expected to play in all 11 of the games left on the Red Sox's schedule after he arrives; Farrell noted he has other center fielders on the roster who will rotate into the lineup.

"I think the goal going in right now, for the games he's on the field, is for him to just experience this," Farrell said. "We've got a little read on him right now, on where his strengths and limitations might be, but that's just an initial view. We're still in the getting-familiar stage of all of this. Any judgment on my part is reserved until we get a chance to see him more."

Castillo had 41 at-bats across three levels of the Sox's minor league system, with 12 hits (.293). He went 1-for-5 with the Gulf Coast League Red Sox, a rookie entry league; he went 5-for-14 with the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs, and he was 6-for-22 with the PawSox, hitting two doubles, walking three times, scoring three times and stealing a base.

His biggest accomplishment to date was delivering a game-tying single with the PawSox one strike away from elimination in Game 4 of the International League series against Durham.

The reports he's received on Castillo, Farrell said, reflect "that he's handled himself well. Given the time off since he last played, his at-bats have been productive and consistent. I think it's important for us to keep in mind and in perspective that it's been a year and a half and we've got to try to get him back in game shape."

Castillo was officially signed by the Red Sox on Aug. 23, less than a month after he conducted a scouting showcase in Miami that was attended by officials from 28 of MLB's 30 teams. Six days after he signed and was granted a work visa, Castillo made his U.S. pro debut in Fort Myers, Florida.

In his first at-bat for the Gulf Coast Red Sox, on a back field at Boston's minor league and spring training complex, Castillo hit a ground ball single up the middle off a 20-year-old New York Yankees prospect named Luis Cedeno.

On Wednesday, just 18 days later, Castillo will be thrust into the middle of the big league playoff race -- the Pirates remain in contention in the National League Central and wild-card race -- against veteran left-hander Francisco Liriano.

Farrell was asked the biggest challenge or adjustment facing Castillo.

"I think it'll be more readily answered once we see him," Farrell said. "It's hard to say how he's going to react to a larger crowd -- he's going to walk into a playoff environment tomorrow. Just how he responds to that will be our first gauge and read on where he's at."

Castillo's playing time will not end with the Sox's season. The team is planning to send him either to the Arizona Fall League or Puerto Rico winter league. Given that the Puerto Rico season does not begin until November, it would seem that the Arizona league, which opens Oct. 7, would offer more continuity.

"We know we're in the middle of a process that will continue through the winter," Farrell said.

On Wednesday night, Castillo likely will be playing alongside Yoenis Cespedes, whom he played against in Cuba for three seasons before Cespedes left the island in 2011. Cespedes, who turns 29 next month and is 23 months older than the 27-year-old Castillo, has said they were no more than acquaintances in Cuba, but said he knew Castillo had the potential to follow him to the major leagues. Castillo inherited the center-field job on the Cuban national team that belonged to Cespedes, and later, Leonys Martin, who now plays center field for the Texas Rangers.

And now, with Cespedes, who was acquired by the Red Sox July 31 from the Oakland Athletics in a trade for Jon Lester, the two Cubans will be side by side wearing Boston road uniforms in a place called Pittsburgh. Have any two Sox teammates ever taken more improbable journeys?