NILES - When the Cleveland Indians organization assigned the 38th overall pick from the 2014 Major League Baseball Entry Draft, Mike Papi, to the Mahoning Valley Scrappers on July 7, it put Leo Castillo in a bad spot.
The Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic native had played most of the 2013 at Lake County and started the majority of this season at first base for the Scrappers, but it seemed Papi was going to get some playing time. Nine days and just two starts later, the former Virginia Cavalier earned a promotion to the Captains on Wednesday, taking the pressure off Castillo.
Following the Scrappers' 9-2 win over the Connecticut Tigers at Eastwood Field Friday, the 6-foot-2 first baseman showed he can thrive without that pressure, going 3 from 5 at the plate and recording four RBIs.
"It was tough for me when I was suffering with the growing pains, but I was trying to continue working hard," Castillo said through a translator. "Now, I start feeling better and I'm hitting better.
"As (soon) as Papi left, I felt more confident now because I know I'm going to play more at first base. I can do my job."
Castillo's performance on Friday was a continuation of what he did during Mahoning Valley's series opener against Connecticut (16-18) on Thursday, when the two teams went to 14 innings before the Scrappers (12-22) eventually lost. He drove in four runs on Thursday to total eight RBIs in the series, while he has six hits over the two games.
"Leo's hot right now," Mahoning Valley manager Ted Kubiak said. "He's got a nice approach, his swing is good, he's nice and loose and relaxed and everything's free. He doesn't get jammed a lot. He's got a pretty good eye, which is a big part of it."
Not only is Castillo collecting hits, he's drilling the ball.
Friday, the 21-year-old had two extra-base hits, including a bases-clearing double to left field that capped a six-run fourth inning for Mahoning Valley. He added a triple to dead center in the sixth that floated over center fielder Rashad Brown's head to drive in Bradley Zimmer. It gave the Scrappers an 8-0 lead.
This performance came after Castillo launched a grand slam to left field in the eighth inning that tied Thursday's game before heading to extras.
"When I step up at homeplate, I never let my mind get crazy," Castillo said. "I'm in control, and I'm trying to look for a good pitch.
"I'm not trying to do too much - only trying to hit the ball pretty hard."
Castillo said these past two games have been a result of the work he's put in over the spring and the early part of this season.
"All of the hard work that I have been trying to improve, I see the result now and it has paid off," Castillo said.
BRADY STRONG AGAIN: Starting pitcher Sean Brady had another solid outing on the mound for the Scrappers.
The 20-year-old right-hander tossed six shutout innings to tie his longest outing of the season, and he struck out a season-high five batters. Brady allowed just three hits over that span and only two Tigers made it into scoring position while Brady was on the mound.
"He's been really good every outing," Kubiak said of the Cape Coral, Fla., native. "Anytime a lefty can keep the ball over like that consistently, there's just something about them that makes it hard for the hitters. I don't like facing lefties because we can't hit them."
PATTERSON'S STREAK BROKEN: For 10-straight at-bats, Mahoning Valley second baseman Steve Patterson just kept getting on base.
Starting with the second of seven plate appearances on Thursday and ending in the bottom of the fifth inning when he grounded out to first, Patterson reached base 10-straight times. Over that time span, he collected five hits, three of which were doubles, was walked three times, was hit by a pitch and reach on an error by the shortstop.