Appreciation: Jairo Castillo was a rising star as a Dodgers scout. COVID-19 ended his life at 31
Last month, Jairo Castillo was in Tijuana for a showcase at the Academia de Beisbol González. Castillo, an international cross-checker for the Dodgers, was back in his element.
He had a keen eye for talent and an incredible memory. He bounced from country to country in his role, spotting young talent and seamlessly breaking down the strengths and weakness of players to his bosses. He had a way of getting along with everyone.
He was from the Dominican Republic but was beloved in Mexico during his short scouting career. He became a champion for Mexican ballplayers.
“He was seriously always smiling,” said Edgar González, a former major leaguer whose family runs the Tijuana academy. “Everybody loved him. I thought he was amazing. I love him. I loved the guy.”
González, brother of former Dodgers star Adrián González, saw Castillo at the showcase in Tijuana last month. Nothing seemed amiss. Less than two weeks later, on Dec. 6, Castillo died of complications from COVID-19. He was 31. He left behind a wife and two sons.
“He had a bright future,” Dodgers vice president of international scouting Ismael Cruz said in Spanish. “He had his vision.”
“Getting along with everyone isn’t easy but it was easy for him.”
— Dodgers vice president of international scouting Ismael Cruz on Jairo Castillo
Cruz and Castillo first crossed paths when Castillo was a teenager with big league dreams. Cruz worked as international scouting director for the New York Mets when they signed Castillo, a third baseman. Castillo boasted a strong arm, but he was inconsistent as a hitter and never developed. The Mets tried converting him to a pitcher. The transition didn’t stick. Cruz said he was released in 2011.
Cruz was soon hired away by the Toronto Blue Jays and needed a video assistant. Castillo told Cruz he’d do anything to step into scouting. Cruz hired him. Castillo recorded tryouts and games. He tabulated statistics. He was always trying to learn.
“He asked a lot of questions,” Cruz said. “He had the motivation to succeed in scouting and you could see that hunger and desire.”
Castillo spent about a year in the role before he was given a part-time scouting job covering the eastern Dominican Republic. The Blue Jays would occasionally send him to Mexico, where he gained his first international experience and made an impact.
“Getting along with everyone isn’t easy but it was easy for him,” Cruz said. “He’d remember all the names of the agents and players. He’d win everyone’s trust. He made it look easy.”
A pudgy teenage catcher named Alejandro Kirk from Tijuana was among the players Castillo helped Toronto sign. Kirk, a catcher listed at 5-foot-8 and 265 pounds, made his debut for the Blue Jays in 2020. The Blue Jays signed Kirk for $30,000 from the Mexican League’s Toros de Tijuana. Jorge Campillo, a former major leaguer, was the team’s director.
“Jairo had one of the best eyes for talent that I know,” Campillo said in Spanish. “He was one of the people who believed in Mexican baseball the most, in its potential.”
After three years with Toronto, Castillo was hired by the Milwaukee Brewers to work as an international scout covering several countries including Panama, Colombia and Mexico. Cruz joined the Dodgers in 2015 and kept tabs on Castillo. In 2018, he hired him as one of the Dodgers’ three international cross-checkers — the final scouting filter before Cruz.
“He always saw the top guys,” Cruz said. “When I was going to sign an expensive player, he had to see him, too, and give his opinion. He was responsible, I think, for the majority of our signings in his two years.”
Aaron Cohen, a three-time Sports Emmy winner, wrote the script to the official 2020 World Series film, which means he put words into narrator Vin Scully’s mouth.
Cruz accompanied Castillo at the showcase in Tijuana last month to evaluate pitchers. They spent Thanksgiving together. He said Castillo left Mexico for the Dominican Republic with a headache and didn’t think much of it.
“At no moment did he think he was infected,” Cruz said. “Everyone you ask is going to say he was normal. He was talking to everyone. There wasn’t an indication of anything wrong.”
Castillo had a fever within days. He went to a doctor and took a rapid test for the coronavirus, which was negative. He went home, where the symptoms worsened. Cruz said Castillo was then admitted to the hospital, tested positive for the virus, and was put on a ventilator.
Cruz said he was told Castillo had shown marked improvement by Dec. 6. That morning, Cruz said, Castillo got out of bed. He danced. He thought he would get discharged. Then his health quickly deteriorated. He began experiencing heart problems. He had at least one heart attack and never recovered.
Castillo was a rising star in the scouting world, from the Dominican Republic to Mexico. He was taking English classes, knowing he needed to improve his English to continue climbing the ladder. He was always pushing, always looking for the next prospect. Always with a smile.
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