Right-hander Anthony Castro has never made major waves among the scouting community. He’s been a bit of an underground favorite for years because of his loose arm, work ethic, and powerful fastball, but the odds of his harnessing enough control to reach the major leagues have always seemed a little long. As a result, Castro generally appears toward the back end of most Tigers’ prospect lists. Yet it might surprise many Tigers fans just how close to the major leagues Castro is at this point.
At 24 years old, Castro is no longer a young pitching prospect. He’s not exactly long in the tooth either, but the Tigers will have to decide whether to protect him from the Rule 5 draft this offseason. That seems a certainty, but they’ll need a spot on the 40-man roster for him. And so, they’ll also have to decide what Castro’s future in the organization is going to look like. That decision may not be far away.
Castro’s outlook has always revolved around a relief role at the major league level. He’s a good athlete who makes a somewhat complicated delivery work at least part of the time. However, he’s also a bit on the slight size for a major league starter at 6’2 and 190 pounds. And he had Tommy John surgery in 2015. So there are reasons to be concerned about his durability and ability to pitch deep into games. And even at his best he’s been more control than command with his fastball.
Starter or reliever?
The question is, do the Tigers still view Anthony Castro as a starter in the long-term? Because if they don’t, his age and injury history probably argue for getting on with things and trying him out in the Tigers bullpen in the second half.
The knock on Castro has always been inconsistency. He has a bit of a long, fluid delivery that relies heavily on his rhythm and balance, and even this season he’s had outings where he lost the plot completely. That delivery helps him get the most out of his frame, but the timing required makes consistency a challenge he hasn’t been able to meet yet. Those occasional meltdown appearances make a pretty good case that lingering optimism about Castro as a future starter is probably misplaced.
However, the stuff is nasty. Castro will sit 93-95 mph with a fastball that varies in movement quite a bit, and he’s been clocked as high as 98 mph. Sometimes it’s a riding fourseamer that will show some late cutting action. Sometimes it runs to Castro’s armside more, or even sinks. Castro has some serious armspeed and hides the ball well. When he’s got decent control of the fastball he’s usually effective. They aren’t great comps for one another, but when he’s going good it’s a bit like watching Spencer Turnbull’s scattergun approach, where it’s all just a bit out of control, but the fastball moves around the edges of the zone to good effect and is rarely barrelled up.
Castro can also spin a really sharp breaking ball at times. He varies the speed and shape well when he’s going good and can throw anything from a tight 12-to-6 curveball at 80 mph, to a wipeout slider at 86 mph. We’ve seen better movement and command of the slider this year and when it’s on, he gets an awful lot of whiffs off of it. The changeup is still more of a show-me pitch, but he will use it and it plays reasonably well off his fastball. The trick is commanding the whole package. On Wednesday, Castro managed it pretty well and his upside was glaringly obvious.
Here are Anthony Castro’s 11 SO’s from his start today!— TigersProspectsVideo (@ProspectsVideo) June 19, 2019
7 IP, 1 ER, 1 H, 1 BB, 11 SO, 0 HR
Everything was working today for Castro. His command was excellent, controlling all 3 of his pitches (FB,SL,CH). He also mixed speeds and had tons of life on his 95-97 MPH fastball! pic.twitter.com/Qv2Xq6UZKu
Watching that you could be convinced we’ve got another strong future starter on our hands. However, Castro’s track record doesn’t really back that up. For every dominant outing, he still has starts where he’s completely lost, and even in a more typical outing the strikeouts don’t come consistently. On the other hand, he’s rarely been hit hard either. Castro doesn’t give up many home runs, and he gets an awful lot of ground balls. There is reason to believe he could be effective in the major leagues in shorter outings.
The Tigers have already shown a willingness to aggressively advance a pitcher in Castro’s position this season. Gregory Soto, who has worked as a starter with an eye to a major league relief role, was promoted to the major leagues earlier this season to pick up some slack in the Tigers’ rotation. He’d only made a brief stop at the Double-A level before that promotion. Soto is also 24, and has a similar combination of impressive stuff and wildly inconsistent command and results. The fact that he’s a lefty is his only advantage over Castro as a pitcher. And like Soto, Castro has already been used in a mixture of starts and relief appearances this season.
There are certainly a few obstacles in the way to Castro following in Soto’s footsteps. Jordan Zimmermann’s return to the Tigers rotation means they’ve only got one rotation spot to deal with at the moment. Castro is certainly a viable choice for a start, but the Tigers would have to cut loose a player to make room on the 40-man roster. That’s going to happen eventually anyway, so it’s just a question of how much longer the Tigers are willing to hold the Ryan Carpenters of the world before making these decisions.
In the end, faith that Castro may eventually make it as a starting pitcher would argue for keeping him in Erie for most of his third full season and letting him continue on a normal starter’s schedule. With Mize out, they have the rotation spot available for a least another month. However, if the Tigers believe, like most other observers do, that Castro is eventually bound for a relief role anyway, his major league debut may arrive much sooner than expected. For the moment, the onus is on Castro to put up some consistent outings, because the course his career takes may be determined over the course of the coming weeks.