Pedro Castellanos was signed as a first baseman when he was 17 years old, but has since moved to left field. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The power was in there. That seemed clear from the screaming line drives that flew off the bat of Pedro Castellanos.

A rangy first baseman from Venezuela with a 6-foot-4 frame, Castellanos made good contact and hit for a decent average since signing with the Red Sox in 2016.

Still, he had three seasons and another three months under his professional baseball belt and a career home run total of only nine.

Here it was mid-July of 2019 and he had been a Carolina League All-Star with Salem, despite going yard only once, back in May.

Casting about for something that would give Castellanos more leverage with his swing, hitting coach Lance Zawadzki spotted the golf bag belonging to another staff member. Zawadzki pulled out a 9-iron, or possibly a pitching wedge, he’s not sure, and headed to the batting cage.

“Well,” Zawadzki remembers thinking, “this is either going to be really good or I might start looking for another job.”

Castellanos had never swung a golf club before. Growing up in northwestern Venezuela, his sports were basketball and baseball. Zawadzki handed him the club, teed up perforated plastic balls and had him hit the balls high into the air to get more comfortable with a different swing plane.

“He used to swing very steep and across,” said Zawadzki, now the Sea Dogs’ hitting coach. “I just got him to get under his shoulders. So we exaggerated it with (the golf club) and brought it into his bat. We moved his hands down and gave him some rhythm.”

That night, in his first at-bat, Castellanos hit a ball high and deep over the center-field fence. A few games later, he homered twice. In a stretch of 24 games, he hit eight home runs, which nearly doubled his career total. A hamstring injury ended his season and prevented him from reaching double digits.

After not playing in 2020 because of the pandemic, Castellanos has picked up where he left off. He belted his 11th home run Sunday to extend a personal hitting streak to 13 games. His .303 batting average is third in the Double-A Northeast League. He even has more homers than doubles (10) for the first time.

“The thing that changed everything,” Castellanos said, “is the golf swing with Lance.”

Castellanos has packed on 65 pounds since he signed as a 17-year-old in 2015 for a bonus of $5,000 that seems a considerable bargain. Now at 23, he’s a solid 245-pounder. The Red Sox noted his athleticism and moved him from first base to left field, where he has made considerable progress.

“He’s embraced the challenge,” said Sea Dogs Manager Corey Wimberly, who had Castellanos in Salem two years ago. “It definitely helps his stock that he can play infield and outfield. I think with the swing change, he’s hitting with enough power to be a corner outfielder.”

Indeed, with a trade deadline looming on Friday, Castellanos has been mentioned as a potential bargaining chip should the Red Sox make a deal. During batting practice Tuesday afternoon before rain washed away the scheduled game against New Hampshire, he launched half a dozen balls out of Hadlock Field.

He also joked with Zawadzki about the music blaring through the ballpark, and requested a country song called “Chicken Fried” by the Zac Brown Band. A few minutes later, chatting amiably inside the dugout, he said he loves to dance, particularly salsa and bachata.

He and his wife of two years, Maria, both hail from Carora, a city (with roughly the same population as Manchester, New Hampshire) located near the top of South America, not far from the island of Aruba.

Although he hasn’t picked up a golf club since that day in Salem two years ago, Castellanos said he hasn’t forgotten the lesson.

“It was unbelievable,” he said. “I was a guy who’d hit 30 doubles and one home run.”

Now, he’s a home-run threat inching ever closer to the big leagues.


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