What do we know about Luis Castillo? We know he just threw 8.0 innings of one run baseball against the Marlins. We know the Reds traded the man facing him — Dan Straily — to bring Luis to Cincinnati. We know he can hit 98 mph in the eighth inning on his 105th pitch as easily as asking him to draw breath or blink perhaps. We know that he’s 24, he’s middle name is Miguel, and he has the full weight of Redleg Nation’s hope on his shoulder for the next few years to come.
Luis Castillo is special, and as I write that, I feel like I’m typing his death sentence. Robert Stephenson was special. Cody Reed was special. Brandon Finnegan, Nick Michael Lorenzen, Raisel Iglesias — all special.
Special is word to be used when you’ve bankrolled desperation and are cashing it out for 200/1 odds on hope. Not every Reds’ pitcher who has been deemed special has washed out. In fact, Raisel Iglesias is still special, just in a lessened role that doesn’t carry as much hope.
But Luis Castillo. What we know about Luis Castillo is hope.
“Luis is a guy we can really build around moving forward. He’s got ace stuff, that’s for sure,” Tucker Barnhart says after his 8.0 inning game, stoking the fire of hope. “Luis certainly, I’m sure, has given our position players reason to be excited every time he takes the mound,” Bryan Price adds, letting the fans know that he, and the team, feels it too.
The fans feel it, the team feels it, hopefully the front office feels it, but is any of this hope unfounded? Have we latched onto a false savior after a year of starting prospects coming up just short?
Let’s start with the basics and where they put expectations versus reality:
First reaction — “Man, he looks like Cueto.”
Expectations: Too High | Reality: Could be something
Repertoire — 97 mph Fastball; 87 mph Changeup; 85 mph Slider; Sinker?
Expectations: Could he be better than Cueto? | Reality: Straight fastball, meaty slider
Early Results — 48.0 inning, 3.56 ERA, 4.05 FIP, 26.2 K%, 9.2 BB%
Expectations: Cueto had worse growing pains | Reality: A lot of walks, a lot of dingers
Expectations have far surpassed reality, but reality still ain’t half bad.
Castillo does look like Cueto in his mechanics, but where Cueto learned to control his tendency to flail and make it deceptive, Castillo’s is still just a byproduct of rearing back and letting loose. There’s nothing wrong with it per se, but if he can channel that excess energy especially with a pitch like the sinker, his repertoire could get even more dangerous.
Castillo’s changeup is perhaps the most devastating part of his arsenal, leaving his hand the same way as his fastball before the bottom falls out. At this point, Castillo’s floor is a knockout closer with the fastball/changeup combo. The slider still needs some work but can be a promising pitch with some development. It doesn’t break quite hard enough to be a strikeout pitch, but it’s definitely a good mid-count misdirection.
Currently, Castillo’s major shortcomings have been walks and dingers, though he has trended in a positive direction, decreasing the rates of each, as he’s started more. Also, Castillo had pinpoint control in the minors, only walking 6.5% of batters faced across all of his minor league seasons. The early erratic performances were probably just Major League jitters, and truly any semblance of control at any level puts Castillo above the strike zone-phobic Stephenson, Garrett, Reed, etc.
His fastball is far too hittable once hitters get the timing down, so Castillo will have to learn to get ahead and then mix in some deception. The sinker is a fantastic step for his future as a potential ace, as it gives him something with speed and a little movement, the biggest hole in his game prior to last week.
It’s that last point — the proven ability to learn — that justifies all of the hope put on Luis Castillo so far. Past doppelgangers, pitch types, and early results, Castillo has proven he has the hunger to take the mantle of this starting rotation. That’s not something the Nation has seen yet this year. Stephenson, Reed, Garrett, Finnegan — none have taken the ball and refused to give it back. That may be a reductive way to think of prospect development, but finally seeing a young pitcher with a fire in his belly is enlivening.
In that 8.0 inning start, Tucker Barnhart called for a glove side sinker on Castillo’s 105th pitch of the game. It torched Marlins shortstop Miguel Rosas at 97 mph for a called strike three. It was the most difficult placement for a pitch that Castillo had learned just that week at the end of a long start when fatigue should’ve been setting in.
“Mechanically you have to be so on-point to get it over there and make it move like he was doing,” Barnhart said after the game.
“It was special.”