A Minors Obsession

When switching roles makes a difference

Unless you’re the Geico Caveman (and if you are, shoot me an email because you’re awesome), you’ve already seen the news that the Cincinnati Reds traded Dan Straily to the Miami Marlins for three prospects. I wrote about it over at RedsMinorLeagues.com. Steve Mancuso covered it quite well here at Redleg Nation.

The two pitchers that came over to the Reds in the trade were right handers Luis Castillo and Austin Brice. In the 2016 season with the Marlins, they both took on roles that were new to them as professionals. For both players it paid off in a big way.

Luis Castillo was the main piece in the trade. The now 24-year-old right hander has a big time arm with a fastball that’s touched 101 MPH. If you’re looking for a full scouting report I wrote about him in depth here. That’s not really what I want to get into with the right hander today, though some of that will come up here. In 2015 the right hander made a move to the rotation around the mid-season mark. In 2016 Castillo made the full on transition to the rotation, making 24 starts (and two appearances following a big league rehabber) on the season.

You don’t often see guys make the transition from the bullpen to the rotation at age 23 without previous experience as a starting pitcher. The Reds haven’t shied away from pitchers that have less “wear-and-tear” on their arms and tried making the move to full time starters over the last decade. While it hasn’t always worked out, it’s something they’ve tried more often than most other teams. The Marlins saw something that made them think that Castillo could make that move as well.

In his first full season as a starter he posted the lowest walk rate of his career. It’s not that he had a poor walk rate at any point in the past, but he walked just 4.8% of opposing batters on the season. His strikeout rate did drop off a little bit, but that’s to be expected. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was easily the best of his career. The ERA was also the best of his career, coming in at 2.26 in 131.2 innings pitched. The transition worked out so well that the right hander went from being unranked among the Marlins Top 30 Prospects entering 2016 by Baseball America to being ranked in the Top 100 overall prospects in all of baseball by ESPN yesterday.

Austin Brice went in the opposite direction in 2016 (if you’re interested in a full scouting report on him, I wrote one yesterday). The 24-year-old had been a starter for his entire career. He even began 2016 as a starter in Double-A Jacksonville. Brice made 13 starts before moving into the bullpen for the Suns in the middle of June. To say that the transition went well would be an understatement. Over his first 31 appearances as a reliever between Double-A, Triple-A and MLB he posted a 2.53 ERA in 42.2 innings with just eight walks and 44 strikeouts. Of course, his final three appearances in the big leagues put a bit of a damper on those numbers as he allowed six runs in 1.1 innings that really bumped up that ERA. Still, overall the transition to the new role seemed to work out very well.

It’s still yet to be seen how exactly the role switch will play out for Luis Castillo, who only has three starts above A-ball. The early returns have been very nice to see, even if we are simply looking back because the move didn’t happen with the Reds. For Austin Brice it took him from a middling starter to a mostly dominant reliever who moved quickly up the ladder.

9 thoughts on “When switching roles makes a difference

  1. Doug – read your write up at Reds Minor League dot com, and saw you think that Castillo will start at AA for the Reds. At his calendar age, do you then think he is on a fast track to the Majors? If he is dominant at AA, then moves to AAA for the balance of 2017, does he zoom up the prospect list, ahead of some other arms?
    And a related question: do you think the Reds start to deal some of their minor league arms for position players, before they get exposed and their value might drop?

    • While it’s possible that Castillo could be fast tracked, I’m not so sure it happens. The Triple-A rotation is going to be full of other quality prospects. So, unless someone is moved to a different role – which is certainly possible, I think it will be more of a normal time table for him. At the same time, if he’s simply dominating and showing everything in his arsenal, then they will have to find a way to push him to Triple-A.

      Not so sure they start moving pitchers yet. They are still rebuilding and finding out who can do what.

      • Thanks Doug. From the descriptions of Castillo, he sounds like he could actually have the stuff to be a #1 starter some day.

  2. ESPN Insider’s 2017 Farm System Rankings:

    8. Cincinnati Reds

    2016 rank: 12

    No system surprised me more from the start of this process (of putting together the annual prospects package) than the Reds’. The Reds’ highest ranking since I started these lists is the culmination of years of productive drafts, capped off by what looks right now like a tremendous one-two punch from their 2016 class, plus big international signings that look promising so far. They have a lot of pitching on the way — probably not any aces, unless Robert “The Lighthouse” Stephenson turns it around — to fill out the last three spots in any rotation and keep a steady supply of power arms for their bullpen.

    They’ve got patient, polished bats coming, guys who will quietly make the Reds among the majors’ leaders in OBP if they all get there at once. And they have some lottery-ticket (high risk/low probability guys with huge ceilings) players further down the system, including catcher Tyler Stephenson, whose first full pro season was wrecked by injuries.

    Cincinnati has more guys who project comfortably as fourth starters than most teams have pitching prospects, period. For a team that will never be able to buy a fourth starter on the open market, that’s critical. Their biggest obstacle now will be Triple-A, a level where many of their prospects have struggled upon reaching for the last few years.

  3. Castillo threw ~106 innings in 2015 and ~130 in 2016. That sets him up nicely to throw 150+ innings in 2017 and then be on track as a starter in MLB in 2018. Its amazing to me the Reds traded Dan Straily for the #94 prospect in baseball ( albeit ESPN) AND a promising MLB-ready bullpen arm.

    Lorenzen is different from Castillo as he did not change from a reliever role to a starter role. Lorenzen changed from a primary outfielder and secondary college closer role to a starter, and did it in microwave fashion. I’m not aware of anyone who has done that. In June 2013, he was playing outfield in college. By April of 2015, he was a starter for the Cincinnati Reds. In March of 2016, he developed a pitching -related elbow injury.

    The Homer and Mesoraco injuries crippled the franchise and the Reds did exactly the right thing with Lorenzen’s usage pattern in the second half of 2016. If Lorenzen is to go back to his starter role, 2017 would need to be a transition year with scripted innings and workload. A flex bullpen year at 80-100 innings with high leverage use some, but also some scheduled long relief outings and occasional spot starts could do exactly that. The new apparent bullpen depth and inevitable growing pains of the young starters could accommodate such a role.

    • I think you are pretty much on target, but some people are convinced that the Reds are dummies for not making Lorenzen a starter this year.
      Time will tell.

      • Or you do both. Lorenzen begins the year as a starter in the scripted role you describe. Mid year, he can move to the pen if need be.

        Early season you can skip a lot of starts and really control his use

        By May, you may have other arms ready to move up

        Bag the idea of signing a starter

        Let’s play these

  4. Methinks those ‘spot’ starts would have to be very few in number. Due to the very nice synopsis you gave us Old School. Even 100 innings would probably be pushing it, and it seems unlikely they would choose to do so, exactly because of his previous elbow problems. Iggy would seem more likely to be a candidate for returning to a spot starter role as he logged 68 innings last year. But it seems to me there was talk last year of his inability to throw a lot of innings. Not to mention his going all aroldis and saying he wanted to become the closer.

    Just another little problem to be ironed out over the spring training period. Travis Wood has been mentioned a few times here, that would seem to be a nice possibility. Even more exciting would be Greg Holland, but not heard that name much over the last few days. It seemed a bit of a long shot we could get him from the get go anyway.

  5. Doug,
    What is the pecking order of all starting pitchers in your mind? (Basically what 5 will/should start at MLB, AAA, AA, etc.). Just to give an idea of who each level will have. Thanks.

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