Rockies ink familiar face in Castilla

Rockies ink familiar face in Castilla

DENVER -- Throughout the 2006 season, the Rockies have been focused on guiding a team built for the future into a pennant race in the immediate present. Monday afternoon the Rockies signed Vinny Castilla to a Minor League contract in hopes that a looming figure from their celebrated past could help the Rockies in their playoff push this season.

"I feel very excited to come back," Castilla said Monday at Coors Field. "This is the organization that gave me a chance to start my career as an everyday player. I took off as a player. Now I'm very excited to be part of this. It's a great club here. We have a chance to win."

Castilla will be in Denver and work out with the Rockies through the end of the current homestand on Thursday, then report to Triple-A Colorado Springs, joining the team in Tucson before a September callup when the big-league rosters expand. The plan is for him to work out with the Sky Sox for five days, DH with them for five games, play third base for three or four days and return to the Rockies on Sept. 1.

"This will be my last season," Castilla confirmed. "I'm very excited to retire as a Rockie in front of these fans. This is where I had my best years. I'm really excited to do that for all the people that have seen me play for a long time. I have great memories here."

Fans need no reminders about the legacy Castilla returns to in Colorado. He is third all-time in Rockies games played (1,083) and home runs (238) and fourth all-time in RBIs (741), hits (1,202), total bases (2,164), runs (609), and doubles (208).

Castilla came to the Rockies from the Braves as part of the 1993 expansion draft, hitting over .300 for five of his first seven years and anchoring third base for the young club. He had a breakout year in '95, the first of five consecutive seasons with at least 24 home runs, and he helped lead the Rockies to their only postseason appearance that year.

As part of the new agreement with the Rockies, Castilla, 39, will remain with the organization after his retirement and work in a currently undefined capacity in player development.

"I want to start working to help the young kids in developing," Castilla said. "I'm excited about it. I learned a little bit through my career, so I want to help pass it on."

General manager Dan O'Dowd stressed that Castilla can play a big role in helping the Rockies develop a presence in Mexico, where Castilla reigns as the country's all-time leader in Major League home runs (319), hits (1,880), runs (900), and doubles (349). He led his countrymen in the inaugural World Baseball Classic this spring, surprising Team USA with a dramatic 2-1 victory.

"Mexico is one part of our Latin America game plan that we need to get better in," O'Dowd pointed out. "Vinny is going to play probably this winter, but he has aspirations to manage there. I think there's a lot of opportunities that creates for us as an organization."

For the time being, however, the Rockies are confident Castilla can help them in September, and they welcome the chance to have his bat available. Castilla hit .232 with four home runs and 23 RBIs in 72 games with the Padres this season. He was released by the club on July 21.

"We'll pick a spot here and there for maybe a start at first, maybe a start at third," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Some pinch-hit opportunities. I still think he'll have enough fear and respect to flip a pitcher around late in a game. I think his veteran experience will help in the clubhouse and in the dugout and on the field."

An original Rockie from 1993-1999, this will be Castilla's third stint with Colorado. He spent the 2004 season in purple pinstripes, hitting .271 with 35 home runs and a league-best 131 RBIs. He also set league records with a .987 fielding percentage at third base in '04 and established a mark for NL third baseman with 144 RBIs in 1998, two records that still stand. He is a two-time All-Star, from '95 and '98, and has been in four postseasons, with the Rockies ('95), Astros ('01), and Braves ('02 and '03).

"This isn't a light-hearted attempt at some PR," Hurdle emphasized. "We thought we could get a guy who could help us in September. It's a feel-good thing for the fans and for Vinny. It gives him an opportunity for his career to end on his terms."

The Rockies had also given consideration to bringing back center fielder Preston Wilson, designated for assignment by the Astros on Friday, but after exploring the idea over the weekend, they have ceased to pursue the opportunity to add another RBI champ (141 with the Rockies in 2003) to their roster.

"I don't think we're in that mix any more at this point in time," O'Dowd said. "We're going to stay committed to the guys we've got here at this point in time. The more we looked at it, it just wasn't the right fit."

Wilson hit .269 with nine home runs and 55 RBIs in 102 games for the Astros this season, but after watching the Rockies offense surge with the recall of Ryan Spilborghs on Friday, the sense of urgency regarding help in the outfield has waned on Blake Street. Spilborghs will be making his third consecutive start in center on Monday night after one game in right on Friday, and Wilson's decreased mobility makes him questionable in Colorado's expansive outfield.

"Spilborghs has played so well, and if we bring somebody in here, they've got to be able to play center field," O'Dowd explained. "I don't think we're going to change gears from where we are right now."

Owen Perkins is a contributor to Reporter Jim Molony contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.