The best second baseman in Miami Marlins history was very nearly Wally Pipped, yet overcame that hurdle to become not just the best second baseman, but possibly the best player in Marlins history.And with all proper respect, I am not talking about Craig Counsell.
The thing is though, for a franchise that has only made the playoffs twice in their existence, there are probably plenty of people out there who might be willing to make the Craig Counsell argument.
That iconic leap into the air as the Marlins won their first World Series, in an 11th inning made possible by his sacrifice fly just two innings prior, is quite the resume after all.
And it is with Counsell that the Luis Castillo story starts. Castillo went into 1997 as the Marlins second baseman of the future, but did not hit as well as hoped. following that up with a month of DL time, cost Castillo his spot.
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Castillo was sent back down, and later that summer, the team landed Counsell. They never looked back the rest of that season.
It is fair to wonder, if the World Champion team had been kept intact, whether Castillo would have gotten a chance to return. That late 1997 model of the Marlins was clicking on all cylinders.
I have a hard time seeing Jim Leyland messing with it, and a harder time seeing Dave Dombrowski not dealing expendable young talent to bolster a championship contending team.
But the 1998 team, unfortunately, left little to be desired. With the roster gutted, and Counsell himself experiencing a sophomore slump, the door was opening for Castillo’s return. An August broken jaw for Counsell made it official, and Castillo was recalled.
The Marlins spent very little time over the next seven seasons looking back.
Accolades and Numbers
During that time, he would steal at least fifty bases twice, play in three All-Star games, win three consecutive Gold Gloves, win a World Series, and establish the franchise record for a hitting streak at 35 games. In five of those seasons, he hit .300 or better, and all of them saw a minimum of a .344 OBP.
The Marlins have had other great second basemen, or at least other great moments from them. A Miami second baseman has been named to three All-Star Games since Castillo was dealt away following the 2005 season.
Dan Uggla‘s effortless homers, and Dee Gordon‘s even more effortless speed. These combined with the Castillo and Counsell legacies to provide the foundation for arguing that second base has been the franchise’s all-time most talented position.
Castillo’s numbers, however, stand head and shoulders above the rest.
Have the Marlins had more naturally gifted players? Sure. Miguel Cabrera, Jose Fernandez. Take your pick. But have they had a more consistently above average performer? That one is much harder to argue.
Baseball Reference credits Castillo with a 22 WAR rating, fourth best behind Giancarlo Stanton, Hanley Ramirez, and Josh Johnson. Find me proof those other three were as successful, consistent, healthy, and productive as Castillo. I’ll happily acknowledge I’m overstating his value.
Still looking? Thought you might be.