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2019 BYB Tigers Prospect #22: Anthony Castro will have to fight for a rotation spot this year

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Castro has quietly continued to progress but he’ll be put to the test in 2019.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Castro is something of an enigma within the Detroit Tigers’ farm system. Neither a high draft pick, nor a flashy international free agent signing, Castro doesn’t have the notoriety of coming over to the Tigers organization in one of the many rebuilding trades that have gone down during the past two seasons. Yet despite a modest pedigree and little flash, scouts have continually held a keen interest in Castro’s progress, and he’s been a slightly under-the-radar favorite here at Bless You Boys for a few seasons now.

In 2018, he was successful again, yet still didn’t manage to paint a clearer picture of his future role.

His strikeout and walk rates suffered somewhat this year against better competition in the Florida State League, but he did post a 2.93 ERA and had little trouble limiting contact and damage in a pitcher-friendly environment. He also threw 126 23 innings, getting better as the season went on. A three game stint at the Double-A level late in his season was disastrous, but that’s not at all disqualifying for a player in his second year of full season ball. Castro didn’t make a leap in 2018, but he continued to shore up parts of his game, stayed healthy, and didn’t stall out in his climb through the minor leagues. For now, that was enough to hold our attention in a Tigers’ system now quite deep in pitching prospects.

Background

Anthony Castro hails from Caracas, Venezuela, and will turn 24 years old in April. The Tigers signed him in 2011, and after a few seasons playing Venezuelan Winter League ball, he came stateside in 2014 to debut in the Gulf Coast League. Castro turned some heads that season as a 19-year-old in rookie ball, but had Tommy John surgery the next year, and didn’t get back on the mound until 2016.

Castro appeared to have benefited overall from the work required to rehab his elbow once he returned. His 6’2 frame had filled out a bit, and his delivery benefited from a little more muscle. Castro threw his first year of full season ball for the Class-A West Michigan Whitecaps in 2017, and posted good numbers. He then stepped up in 2018, and similarly put together a low ERA and a second consecutive 100+ inning campaign pitching at the Advanced-A level for the Lakeland Flying Tigers.

Strengths

Castro is interesting for his well-roundedness and a distinctive fastball. He has three quality pitches, and throws a healthy amount of strikes. Castro gets a good deal of weak contact off a fourseam fastball that can run up as high as 97 mph, but is typically 92-94 mph as a starter. His delivery features a fairly high, acutely cocked arm position and, as a result, he gets around on the ball and can produce some fairly nasty cutting action. In fact, the fastball a couple different ways, and not always at Castro’s direction. He moves the pitch up and down in the zone reasonably well, and hitters at the A-ball levels struggled to square it up.

While his secondary pitches lag behind the fastball in command and consistency, both his power curveball and slider continue to show the makings of quality offerings. Castro spins a hard curve in at 80-82 mph with good spin rate, and good depth. The action varies from a straight 12-to-6 break to a little more horizontal movement when he chooses to bend it away from right-handed hitters. At its best, the curveball is a plus pitch that pairs well with his fourseamer, especially against right-handers. The slider varies in shape and velocity, and can look downright unhittable at times, but also falls flat too often as Castro struggles to harness the bite on the pitch.

To back up his two primary pitches, Castro also throws a mid-80’s changeup with nice fading action. The pitch is still a work in progress, but while there isn’t quite the velocity separation from his fastball that you’d like to see, it draws average grades and showed improvement in the second half of Castro’s season. Don’t expect it to ever be a real weapon, but the odds are that the changeup won’t be the thing holding him back from hitting his ceiling as either a backend starter or setup man.

Weaknesses

Unlike a lot of non-top 100 pitching prospects, Castro’s command isn’t necessarily the glaring weakness in his development. He certainly has work to do, but since returning from the elbow surgery in 2016, Castro has done a fine job throwing strikes and limiting walks. The stuff isn’t always consistent, but he’s continued to make incremental improvements on that front, and got into a nice groove this summer where he was hitting his spots more regularly.

Castro punched out only 20.2 percent of hitters faced in 2018, which is mainly why his season was a little underwhelming. Still, the numbers can be deceiving. There were a handful of really rocky starts scattered throughout Castro’s season. Most particularly his three start promotion to Double-A Erie where he really struggled before being returned to Lakeland. Castro managed to strike out just four batters in 10 innings during that abortive assignment in which he looked out of sorts. However, he punched out eight batters on three different occasions with Flying Tigers, and in most outings, had no trouble racking up strikeouts. He just lacks that one really dominant pitch, and as a result, he’s going to have to put the whole package together to make it to the majors as a starter.

There’s also a good chance that there isn’t much projection left in Castro’s stuff at this point. At 95+ mph, the fastball is a plus pitch, but he hasn’t always shown the ability to sustain that kind of gas. Generally it draws above average grades, rather than true plus marks. We’ve seen him bulk up a bit already and he’s soon to be 24 years old. And while that cutting life on the fourseamer can make hitters uncomfortable, that movement is inconsistent and will straighten out at time. In its normal velocity band of 92-94 mph, it’s likely that upper level hitters, particularly lefties, will have success against it unless Castro can more consistently harness the movement and location. Particularly after they’ve had a few looks.

For all these reasons, Castro looks like a good candidate for a future move to the bullpen. Allowed to max out his fastball, it would play more as a legitimate plus pitch, and he could then rely almost exclusively on the curveball as a secondary, mixing in the changeup just as a change of pace. Castro has the makings of a good reliever who would draw some general comparisons to the Chicago Cubs’ Carl Edwards Jr. Due to circumstances in the upper levels of the Tigers’ system, there are good reasons to think that may happen sooner rather than later.

Projected 2019 Team: Double-A Erie SeaWolves

Castro really has nothing else to prove in Lakeland. Expect to see him with the SeaWolves for the majority of the year. The question is how he fits into a talented and crowded pool of starting pitchers in the upper levels of the farm system. Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Franklin Perez, and Alex Faedo will all be likely be teammates of Castro’s at some point. The Tigers could move Kyle Funkhouser, Logan Shore, and Beau Burrows all to Toledo, alongside Spencer Turnbull, Tyler Alexander, Matt Hall, and Ryan Carpenter, but you see the conundrum. The Tigers will be faced with some decisions on who to transition to relief. It wouldn’t be surprising to see one or two of the fringier guys, like Tyler Alexander or Ryan Carpenter, simply cut loose at some point.

There are good reasons to believe that a relief role is Castro’s path to the major leagues, but ideally, you’d like to give him one more year as a starter and see if he can handle the jump to Double-A and continue a march to Detroit. We’ll have to wait and see what the Tigers decide.