Name: Simon Castro
DOB: April 9, 1988
"You have to be patient with him," former Padres minor league field coordinator and current MLB scout Bill Bryk said. "From inning to inning it is outhouse to the penthouse. He is projectable with a loose, whip-like arm that made great strides in the Instructional League.
"Those kinds of guys have a chance to be special if they reach their potential."
It is true that Castro has a long way to go, but should he find the rhythm in his mechanics, Castro is a pitcher that could move quickly and that slight improvement could make him a dominating force.
After beginning his career in the Dominican Summer League in 2006, Castro came to Arizona this year, going 2-6 with a 6.22 ERA over 14 games for the AZL Padres. While he tied for the league lead in losses, he also fanned 55 in 50.2 innings – showing he has the stuff to be an elite pitcher if he can bring it altogether.
First-pitch strikes often elude the Dominican Republic native. Working from behind in the count forces Castro to throw his heater down the middle of the plate sans positive results. He ended up walking 30 this past year and allowing 61 hits for a less than impressive 1.80 WHIP.
Generating good push off his back leg by twisting his torso and front leg back behind his body, Castro follows through with a long arm that arcs from a three-quarters angle across his body towards the plate.
Consistent mechanics have been a trouble spot for the right-hander. Castro has struggled maintaining a constant release point, and, as a result, his accuracy suffers.
"Control is a problem for him," former AZL manager and current roving hitting instructor Tony Muser said. "Repeating mechanics is a problem for him. I think all of the young Latins we had have, in general, signed because of velocity. When you get them that is what they think they are here for – harder, harder, harder in their mind is better when we are trying to take them in the opposite direction of command.
"Cleaner mechanics, better command, more efficiency, lower pitch counts for the numbers of innings they pitched. Our max was 75 and very seldom did they get through five innings with 75 pitches. Trying to get them to be efficient and strike throwers without damaging the arm or hurting the velocity. Patience is the key. It can get frustrating, but they are very young. To get that feel of throwing the ball at 90-95 percent effort, cleaning up the mechanics and not loosing much of the velocity. They have yet to understand that where you throw the ball is just as important as how hard you throw it."
"We did a lot of things," former AZL Padres and current Eugene pitching coach Dave Rajsich said of the mechanical changes Castro underwent. "We took his hands over the top so we could get him to balance on the backside a little more and let his arm uncoil – he has nice long arm action so it lets the ball come out in front. It really helped since he has a tendency to want to rush and get out in front.
"From the stretch, we made him a lot more deliberate and took him down to a 1.8 or 1.9 (delivery to home), where he is way too slow out of the stretch, to get him to learn how to load and let that arm uncoil. The next step is to start speeding him up so he is comfortable and the delivery is repeating."
Balls in the dirt are common with the righty on the hill. It would benefit him to come more over the top, but his arm and elbow have a natural tendency to drop.
"I think it is the same thing as (Wilton) Lopez," Padres director of international scouting Randy Smith said. "When Lopez keeps his arm up, he is nasty. The same thing with Castro. When he stays on top, he has better life, throws more strikes, a better breaking ball.
"It is a product of doing too much. They come over here and try and do something different and do too much. I don't think command will be a real issue – it is a matter of getting his mechanics down. He is a big kid and it takes a little time to get the mechanics. I think he will throw strikes."
When he keeps the downward plane of his pitches uniform and constant, his movement increases and his control improves. The effect is a repeatable delivery – something that has been hard for Castro to master.
Out of the stretch, Castro appears to be hunched over and tense. And one hit could spurn into multiple runs crossing the dish, as he struggles to avoid the big inning.
Overthrowing is common among Latin American prospects that believe they need to throw hard to stay in the states. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Location matters, as does movement. While it is often true that speed can't be taught, the rest will fall in place if the location is right – particularly with a power arm like Castro.
Castro has had a tough time trusting his own abilities and stuff. He will try and rear back to find those extra ticks on his fastball when it would be wiser to slow down, relax, and work at 90 percent effort to get the strike he needs. Whenever he looks for the extra gas, Castro becomes wild up in the zone and his ball gets tattooed.
Castro has a fastball that gets up as high as 96 MPH and routinely works in the low- to mid-90s. His fastball has late pop – an extra gear at the end to make it a swing-and-miss pitch.
Once he learns to repeat his delivery, Castro will find confidence in an elevated fastball to get batters chasing at pitches that come up around the eyes. Right now, the focus is on working down in the zone and getting ahead in the count.
His slider has improved considerably over the last year. Once a pitch that didn't have tremendous drop or spin has seen more action down and in to left-handers and away from righties.
"About halfway through the year he was outstanding and probably the last three weeks or month he started getting into the old habits of rushing and getting out in front," said Rajsich. "It is just a matter of him staying over the backside and letting it come up.
"His slider really improved. His changeup is what he struggled with. We are still continuing to work on the changeup."
His delivery provides his slider with sweeping movement across the plate but also plays havoc with his release point – meaning a ball could end up in the first base dugout just as easily as it does in the mitt. If he comes more over the top, the slider will have more drop but less action across the plate.
He lacks a consistent changeup and it comes in more like a batting practice fastball because it is currently too hard. Batters have been able to tee off on the pitch – and he rarely has the confidence to throw it during a game.
Trying to focus on the changeup at the Padres Instructional League this fall, Castro wound up with the highest ERA of the 22-pitcher group while throwing more pitches per batter (4.6) than any other teammate.
"When you talk about high ceiling you can compare Castro and Jose Ceda," former Latin American scout Felix Francisco said. "Castro is much more shy than Ceda. Usually those guys take a little longer."
"You look at some of theses guys in Peoria and think they are miles away from the big leagues," Smith began. "With guys with stuff, as soon as they harness their mechanics and get the ball to the plate consistently, they can move very quickly. I think Castro could be one of those guys, almost like (Jose) Ceda has with the Cubs. It wouldn't surprise me to see (Ceda) in the big leagues by the end of the year. Castro could be one of those guys too. Once he starts getting in the strike zone and harnessing his mechanics, he could move quickly. Stuff is not an issue – consistent strikes and mechanics."
ETA: Castro is a definitive work in progress but has considerable talent. He has a plus fastball and a slider that could be a plus pitch. His changeup is below average but should be serviceable in time. If he can learn consistent mechanics, everything will come together quickly for Castro, and he will vault up the prospect rankings. He is ticketed for a repeat of short-season this year and the soon to be 20-year-old will benefit from the tutoring of the coaching staff. Expect him to improve drastically this season.
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