With each passing year, spring training marks a time for players to make a statement. Teams are looking to fill spots on their opening day rosters and players are looking to earn those spots. This fact rings doubly true for rebuilding teams, a label that is extremely fitting of the 2017 Padres.
However, 2017 is different, as the World Baseball Classic has provided an additional, grander stage for players to prove themselves. From veterans looking to find their way back to the majors, such as Jason Marquis and Eric Gagne, to youngsters looking to make a statement, such as Padres left-hander, Jose Castillo, the WBC provides a whole new platform for baseball.
For the Padres, Jose Castillo certainly made a statement with his WBC performance. Before we go any further, let me preface this by saying Castillo will not be making the Padres roster this season. At 21 years old, Castillo has still yet to pitch above A-ball. With that being said, he has gone a long way to prove his long-term value to the Padres’ organization.
Along with fellow Padres, Jhoulys Chacin and Yangervis Solarte, Castillo represented his home country, Venezuela, in the World Baseball Classic this month. Venezuela has since been eliminated from the Classic, but the team will be remembered for a variety of great moments, including one particular moment involving Castillo.
Let’s set the scene. It was the sixth inning of a crucial game against the United States on Wednesday, March 15, and Venezuela was clinging to a 1-0 lead. There were two batters on and only one out when Venezuelan manager, Omar Vizquel, made the decision to bring in young left-hander, Jose Castillo, to try to get out of the jam. With Christian Yelich and Nolan Arenado the next two batters due up, it looked like it would be a tough situation for Castillo to get out of. Despite the odds being stacked against the lefty, who had yet to pitch above High-A, Castillo struck out both guys back-to-back, preserving the slim lead and getting the Venezuelans out of a tough jam.
For a pitcher of his youth and inexperience, striking out two of the best hitters in baseball was certainly quite a feat. That was certainly Castillo’s most impressive moment of the Classic, as the lefty finished with two earned runs on four hits in three and two-thirds innings pitched at the Classic, which included one walk and five strikeouts. With that performance, the Padres saw the true potential they have in Castillo.
Originally signed by the Tampa Bay Rays out of his home country of Venezuela in 2012 at the age of 16, Castillo was sent to the Padres as part of the Wil Myers trade in December of 2014. Since coming to the Padres’ organization in 2014, Castillo has elevated his prospect stock every single season, culminating in his strong WBC performance last week.
In his first season with San Diego in 2015, Castillo struggled, posting a 4.00 ERA in 27 innings with the Low-A Fort Wayne TinCaps and a 3.61 ERA in 52 and a third innings with the short season Tri-City Dust Devils. However, 2016 was a huge step forward for Castillo. After throwing five strong innings with the Dust Devils to start off the season, Castillo found his way back to Fort Wayne, where he allowed only six earned runs over his 23 and two-thirds innings, earning him a promotion to High-A Lake Elsinore, where he gave up only two earned runs over his final 11 and a third innings.
In 2016, Castillo showed his strikeout ability, as he struck out 49 batters in exactly 40 innings on the season. Going into the 2017 season, Castillo should be a fast mover if he continues to show that kind of strikeout ability and run prevention. However, as an A-ball pitcher, Castillo stills has his warts to work out. Chief among them is his walk rate, which exceeded four during his short time with the Storm. If he can get that in check, the sky could be the limit.
In a few years time, Castillo could represent yet another strong relief prospect the Padres can add to their major league bullpen. There is a lot of hit and miss during rebuilds, but so far the Padres look like they have hit on quite a few intriguing future bullpen pieces. Castillo’s emergence makes the Padres acquisition of Wil Myers look even better, if that was actually possible. Castillo will certainly be a player to watch in 2017 and beyond for the San Diego Padres.