Name: Simon Castro
DOB: June 5, 1985
Signed as an international free agent prior to the 2006 season, Castro began his career in the Dominican Summer League. He went 1-3 with a 4.63 ERA across 12 starts – holding the opposition to 40 hits in 46.2 innings while walking 21, hitting 12 and striking out 58.
Moved stateside in 2007, Castro appeared in 14 games, including 12 starts, for the Arizona Rookie League Padres. He walked 30 and yielded 61 hits in 50.2 innings while fanning 55. He also hit nine batters and tossed 12 wild pitches.
His numbers improved this past season with Eugene when he went 2-3 with a 3.99 ERA across 15 starts. In 65.1 innings, the right-hander allowed 54 hits, walked 29 and struck out 64. Hr still hit 14 batters and tossed eight wild pitches but the progress has been evident.
"He is really smart," Eugene manager Greg Riddoch said. "We have our English classes and they were impressed with how fast he picked up the English. But then the other side of that, too.
"Then the dugout divided into thirds, so our Latin kids took up the far end and they called it "Spanish Town." So if you went to go into Spanish Town, they'd hold a bat down like, ‘Show me your passport or you can't come into Spanish Town.' But he was behind having that kind of fun in the dugout, creating that kind of leadership.
"So, I'd go down to tell somebody to get ready to pinch run if so-and-so got on the next inning, and I'd say, ‘Do I need to show a passport? I'm the manager.'
‘No, you can come through.' Just playing fun stuff with them that creates that family atmosphere where it's not just all that hardcore stuff. He was responsible for the Spanish Town; he created it and kind of monitored it and all that stuff. I even looked down there one night and Spanish Town had the wave going on! So we made a comeback and I told them, ‘Hey, that's great, but don't be doing that anymore because the other team's liable to think we're mocking them and they'll start nailing our players.'
"They were just having fun, like kids will have when you're young like that. He was the leader behind most of that stuff and really the Latin leader on our team."
He placed sixth in the Northwest League in strikeouts, whiffing 8.82 per nine innings pitched. He also ranked eighth in the league with a .298 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play).
Castro was dominant against left-handed hitters, holding them to a .189 average, while righties hit .245 off him. He kept the leadoff hitter of an inning to a .211 average and held the opposition to a .193 mark with runners on base.
"Simon is really starting to grow and mature as a person and a pitcher," Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "We all know that he has a gifted arm, but what good is velocity if he can't control the zone?"
The Dominican native held the opposition to two runs or less in nine of his starts – tossing a one-hitter over seven frames in his last outing.
Early in his career, Castro worked strictly with his fastball. Over the last two seasons, however, he has begun to rely more and more on his secondary pitches.
"He's maturing," Padres roving pitching coordinator Mike Couchee said. "He's buying into what we're trying to do here. He's got plenty of stuff even at a more controlled delivery. Maybe a 90-95 percent effort level, he's finding out the command with the stuff he brings at 90 percent, or 95 percent is plenty good enough. This kid for me has made nothing but great strides the last two years."
He works off a fastball that sits in the low-to-mid-90s and reaches 96-97 mph. It has late life down in the zone, although it is straighter than those who throw softer. He is able to throw it up in the zone effectively – getting hitters to chase when it is up around eye level.
Fastball command remains an issue. Castro will use max-effort, at times, in his delivery. It makes his release point inconsistent as he tries to throw the ball through a wall. Castro is at his best at 95 percent efficiency, using the extra five to gain command of the pitch.
His slider has sharp break and comes in at a hard 87-88 mph. Its tight spin makes it a deadly pitch but inconsistent command remains an open issue. He has a tendency to fly open on the pitch and put his weight too far forward, yanking the ball off the plate.
His changeup remains a work in progress. It has gotten much better over the last year and now comes in at a more acceptable speed variance. He used to throw it in the mid-80s but the pitch has been coming in more consistently in the low-80s, making it an effective out-pitch when he throws it over.
"Man, did he come on with a changeup! I think one game he threw 17 out of 24 for strikes," Riddoch said. "Who really hardly ever threw one before. So he came a whole lot. He came two years in one summer in every aspect of the game. He has a big leaguer – a 95 mph fastball. He's a big leaguer someday, 19 years old."
The slip pitch tends to be a pitch he holds too hard. Rather than a soft grip to get a gentle release, Castro tightens his grip on the ball and the release point suffers – becoming too far out in front of his body. The ball, therefore, sails into the dirt.
Still wild in and out of the zone, Castro throws far too many pitches per plate appearance. He has yet to develop consistent command of his off-speed pitches and that affects his ability to get quicker punchouts.
"We worked hard on his delivery and finish, and he really improved all summer long, from the beginning to the end of extended and from the beginning to the end of the season in Eugene," Fuson said. "His slider is still a work in progress; sometimes it has some bite and fell, other times it can get sweepy and big. His changeup is also starting to come around."
Castro can be a slow starter – needing extra throws to get into the groove with his pitches. As he gains comfort on the mound, his ability to throw strikes improves. Sometimes, it is too late, as the pitch count climbs beyond his limits.
A three-quarters delivery makes it slightly harder to maintain a consistent arm slot and release point. Mechanics, therefore, are an essential part of his progression.
"He is much more relaxed," former Eugene and current Lake Elsinore pitching coach Dave Rajsich said. "He understands that his mechanics are still a little suspect, but they're so much cleaner and the arm comes through much better, gives him a chance to throw more strikes and he really, really picked up the changeup so well in the second half.
"The biggest thing right now is mechanics. He still has a tendency to blow out; the head leans and the body cuts it off, and to repeat the delivery.
"The slider has really come along really well. The changeup is still hard, but it's every game you're seeing another tick down in the miles per hour. Now it's just a question of the experience of him throwing strikes; learning to hold runners with the slide step, the pitch sequences, what works with this; learning to elevate. He's had great games and he's had games where he's taken a step back. That's acceptable at this point in time, but if you look at where he was last year, where he is now, if you catch him on the right day, you're really going to go "wow!"
Castro does not do a good job holding runners close. More concerned with maintaining a stable motion, he will forget about the runners on base. The speed of his fastball helps negate the advantage but his inability to throw strikes continuously limit that advantage. The opposition was successful on 14-of-17 stolen base attempts this past season.
"I am really quite pleased," Padres director of international scouting Randy Smith said. "Castro hitting 98 in his first outing in Eugene and then coming back and pitching better and still reaching 95."
Conclusion: There is a lot to like with Castro. He has a plus fastball, flashes a plus slider, and has shown an average changeup. With his ability to vary speeds, consistency in the strike zone is needed. Hitters lay off a lot of his pitches simply looking for a fastball to hit. They need to be wary of his secondary pitches to get more swing-and-miss at-bats.
His mechanics are the fundamental starting point to success. He has a lot of movement from a lanky frame and needs to find a balance. It will lead to more strikes and then he can focus on the next stage of development – setting up hitters with pitch sequencing. If command improves, Castro has number one starter potential.
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