The 2019 Detroit Tigers pitching staff was a bit of a nightmare from a player development standpoint. Without a fifth starter and lacking reinforcements in the bullpen, pitchers were wearing a groove into I-75 all season long heading back and forth between Detroit and Toledo. The repercussions were felt throughout the upper levels of the organization.
While the Tigers protected their top pitching prospects from the fallout, Anthony Castro found himself lost in the shuffle at times. The Tigers started him in relief, moved him back to a full-time starting role, but still leaned on him for occasional bullpen work on short notice. He handled those transitions reasonably well and took his breaking ball to new heights during the course of the season. However, pinballing between starting and relief roles hampered his chances of settling in.
Presumably, the Tigers have finally decided to make the long expected move to relief permanent next season. As a result, Castro is a good bet to move quickly and see his first major league action out of the Tigers bullpen in 2020.
Anthony Castro hails from Caracas, Venezuela. 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.
The work rehabbing his elbow benefited Castro’s overall athleticism. His lower half was stronger following the long layoff, 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 carried that success through another 100 innings of solid work in the Florida State League in 2018, and reached Double-A Erie late in the season. However, neither Castro’s stuff nor his command took the extra leaps the Tigers were hoping to see.
However, in 2019 Castro’s breaking ball finally did improve rapidly, leading to a career high strikeout rate. Unfortunately, consistency remains enough of an issue that his time as a starting pitcher is likely at an end. However, his slender 6’1 frame always made this the likely endgame, and there remains plenty of upside for Castro as a reliever.
Castro pitches with substantial feel and power, despite a lanky frame and an elaborate delivery. He can ramp his fastball into the upper 90s and is comfortable sitting at 93-95 miles per hour with good life. Castro has always had the ability to spin a good breaking ball, and we have seen a few different iterations over the years. However, in 2019, Castro’s low-80s slurve really emerged in a big way, showing consistently nasty break that helped him to a fine 26.5 percent strikeout rate. Both pitches were reliably plus offerings this season and at his best flashed better than plus.
Castro has the ability to add or subtract velocity to his fastball and can even cut his four-seamer when he wants to jam a left-handed hitter. That feel extends to his emergent breaking ball as well, and Castro can add or subtract tilt to it when he so desires. Spin rates for both offerings check in well above average. There hasn’t been much development in either the splitter or circle change he will occasionally show, but as his time as a starter is probably over that matters little at this point.
He has a somewhat lengthy full delivery that doesn’t always transition well to pitching from the stretch, but he sits down well into his right side during his leg kick, generating good drive toward the plate with quality extension. His arm action is long and fairly loose despite presetting his wrist early in his delivery, and he has some deception out of a pretty standard three-quarters arm slot. While his timing will sometimes get out of whack and leave him looking wild for a few hitters, he generally rips off lengthy stretches where he is in sync and nearly untouchable by most minor league hitters.
The highlight of Castro’s 2019 campaign was a June 19 undressing of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. Castro one-hit the Sea Dogs over seven frames while walking just one hitter and punching out 11 on the day.
Command continues to hold Castro back, and is really the only barrier to him being a very useful weapon in a major league bullpen. He throws strikes and is often sharper than his numbers would indicate in this regard, but he will lose his rhythm and release point for short stretches. After several seasons in which he kept the free passes nicely in check, his walk rate spiked badly to 14.8 percent this season. As a result, a move to the bullpen has always seemed likely, but Castro does have plenty of upside in that role.
A bit of fuss has been made about the fact that Castro posted a 10.69 ERA in relief this season, as opposed to his 3.23 mark as a starter, but there isn’t much actual cause for concern. Castro had no opportunity to get comfortable with the quick preparation and day-to-day mentality of a good reliever. He tossed only 16 of his 102 1⁄3 total innings in relief, and after four straight relief outings to open the season, he was needed as a starter. From that point on, his occasional relief appearances always came on short notice. He certainly struggled badly as a reliever, but as he had no opportunity to develop a routine or any comfort level pitching out of the pen, it doesn’t really mean anything.
Projected 2020 team: Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens
Castro has the weapons necessary to be a good reliever at the major league level. The development of his breaking ball into a consistent plus offering have him looking like a legitimate bullpen weapon. However, his intermittent command issues make him a bit riskier than our 25th ranked prospect, Bryan Garcia, though his stuff is more potent. There are still a wide range of outcomes here, but Castro’s potential should not be underrated.
What he needs now is time to get comfortable with the unique demands of relief work while testing himself against a more experienced brand of hitter in the International League. Five years on from Tommy John surgery and set to turn 25 in April, it’s high time the Tigers start recouping some value here. Unless something goes badly wrong, you can expect to see Anthony Castro working out of the Tigers bullpen this summer.