Not to pile on the San Francisco Giants too much, but for certain specific reasons, I’m going to pile on the San Francisco Giants for a bit. We’ve all been given the great opportunity to see what Adam Duvall has been able to provide for the Cincinnati Reds since the July 2015 trade that brought him in from the Giants in exchange for Mike Leake. Duvall’s 2016 breakout had him with an .858 OPS on June 30th of last year, a mark he’s currently besting with an even more impressive .894 OPS exactly one year later.
He’s been worth exactly 5.0 bWAR in 224 games played over the last two years, while making just a bit over $500,000 each year. Thanks, San Francisco!
But Duvall is far from the only thing the Giants have indirectly sent Cincinnati’s way of late. Keury Mella, of course, was technically the spotlight prize of the Leake deal at the time, and while he’s still slogging his way as a starter with AA Pensacola, he’s got the kind of electric arm that could have him as a reliever in the big leagues at some point in the not too distant future. Barring a turnaround, Mella’s path might end up, in some ways, similar to another former Giants product - Ariel Hernandez, who San Francisco signed way back in 2008 as a starter before his 100 mph fastball and knee-buckling curve were moved to a relief role.
Did I say knee-buckling? I meant body-buckling. Thanks, San Francisco!
Despite all of that, however, the former Giant that has the most twinkles in eyes in Cincinnati is pitcher Luis Castillo, who now has a pair of big league starts under his belt after Wednesday’s 5.2 inning, 9 K performance. And no, those twinkles aren’t just because he’s a real, live Cincinnati starting pitcher with an ERA under 7.
That Castillo can hit 100 mph with his fastball is impressive, but in today’s velocity-fueled game, that’s not terribly groundbreaking for a pitcher. However, that he can routinely do it as a starting pitcher truly is. As of this morning, there are 213 starting pitchers across MLB that have thrown at least 10 innings this year. Of those 213, there’s only one who has managed to maintain a higher average fastball velocity than Castillo’s 97.9 mph - and that’s Noah Syndergaard at 98.2 mph, whose 2016 season saw him lead all of baseball in FIP en route to receiving an All Star nod, Cy Young Award consideration, and even down-ballot MVP votes.
That’s impressive, to be sure, but might not even be the most impressive thing on that leaderboard. If you slide eight columns over to the right, you’ll see average change-up velocity, and that Castillo has managed to shave a full 10.2 mph of average velocity off his fastball when throwing that devastating pitch, a huge amount of deception when you factor in that his 21.1% usage of that pitch is the 4th highest frequency on the front page of that leaderboard. And to save you a bit of time with the math, the 10.2 mph difference between his fastball and change-up is the 2nd largest gap on that front page, with only Milwaukee Brewers starter Wily Peralta - who only throws his change on 3.1% of his pitches - having a larger gap at 11.3 mph.
That’s a devastating combo, especially if the type of elite strikezone command he showed during his time in the minors begins to translate at the big league level, something that hasn’t yet happened in his extremely limited time on the mound. And honestly, it’s that refined ability that he’s shown through the minors that drew my eye to something else that’s got some significance, I believe.
Castillo’s older than you probably think. Despite the fact that he entered the 2017 season having thrown just 14 innings above A ball in his minor league career, he’s going to turn 25 years old this calendar year. He’s older than each of Brandon Finnegan, Cody Reed, Rookie Davis, Sal Romano, and Robert Stephenson, despite all of those names having been higher on the pecking order to begin the year. That’s largely because the Giants - before trading him to the Miami Marlins for Casey McGehee in late 2014 - didn’t sign Castillo out of the Domincan Republic until he had already turned 19 years old.
Ariel Hernandez, for instance, signed as a 16 year old, as did fellow Latin American signees (and familiar names) Jose Peraza, Yorman Rodriguez, and Juan Duran, among many, many others. And given the restrictions placed on teams governing how long they’re allowed to keep players in the minor leagues, it’s often that you’ll see young Latin players pushed aggressively through the minors, something players drafted at age 21 out of US college systems rarely are tasked with doing. That didn’t have to be the case for Castillo, however, which undoubtedly contributed to why he was allowed to move slowly through the Miami system, gradually being stretched out as a starter as opposed to facing a fast-track in a bullpen role.
It cost Cincinnati Dan Straily to get Castillo, and given Straily’s success in 2016 and his years of team control, that was a lot to give up for a guy who looked the part of a mid-rotation staff cog for the near future. But in Castillo, there’s not just greater team control, there’s the upside of a staff ace in his talents, upside that just so happened to coincide with a pitching staff in complete shambles that propelled him straight from AA to the majors without a pit stop in Louisville. While on paper, the logistics suggested he’d probably be shipped back to the minors for more marination as the rest of the Cincinnati staff got healthier, his age compared with the early returns suggest he just might be around longer than we all thought.
And that’s a very, very promising development. Thanks, San Francisco!