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.
"Makeup, intelligence, work ethic – all there," Padres director of player development and international scouting Randy Smith said. "You look at the struggles he had in the Arizona Rookie League and watching him there when people weren't sure about him.
"The command has come, the slider has gotten sharper, the changeup has improved. A lot of these Latin guys – it takes a while to get through A-ball – once they get it, they take off. He is a guy that could move pretty fast."
This is a real classic case of player development," former pitching consultant Bob Cluck said. "Scouts go out and find guys with good bodies, strong arms, and now this guy's changed his mechanics completely working with the pitching coaches. Now, he not only speaks English but he's mentoring the young -- during spring training this year he was mentoring the young Latin players, and translating for them. Three years ago, he didn't speak, I'm telling you, not a word of English. He's obviously a smart kid. And that's what this whole thing is supposed to work. The scouts find a guy like that and turn him over to player development, and he's transformed into a prospect. He's doing great."
His numbers improved in 2008 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 was evident.
Castro was dominant against left-handed hitters during the '08 season, 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.
Moved up to Fort Wayne in 2009, Castro blossomed. The right-hander got better as the season wore on and completed the year with a 10-6 record and a 3.33 ERA across 28 games. His 2.80 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) ranked third best in the league.
"When they signed him was a kid with a good arm, who spoke no English and had awful mechanics," Cluck said. "And here we are three years later, between Mike Couchee and Bronswell Patrick, those guys have transformed this guy into a pitcher."
"I was with Simon in extended for a bit in 2007, and he didn't have near the command then that he has now," former Fort Wayne and current Eugene pitching coach Tom Bradley said. "The other pitching coaches in our organization – Razor and Bronswell Patrick – have done a great job with him in helping him repeat his delivery and being around the zone. His walks are down and he is third or fourth in the league in strikeouts. He is a joy to coach."
"Here's a guy two years ago that had trouble keeping it up against the back stops," former Fort Wayne and current San Antonio manager Doug Dascenzo said. "I remember him a little bit, but everything from his English, to his command of his pitches, to doing interviews, has accelerated so, so much and so beautifully that this guy could go fast."
In 140.1 innings, Castro allowed just 118 hits and walked 37 while fanning a Northwest League leading 157 and placed eighth in the entire minor leagues in strikeouts per nine innings. His 4.24 strikeout-to-walk ratio was third best in the circuit. He held the opposition to a cumulative .226 average against and his 1.10 WHIP was the second best mark in Midwest League play.
"His delivery is better; he's around the zone," Bradley said. "I think he only walked like 30-some hitters. He walked 37, 37 walks in 140 innings. Now that's absolutely incredible to see how far he's come."
The Dominican native allowed one run or less in 14 of his starts and threw shutout ball in eight outings. The zenith came when Castro tossed a seven-inning no-hitter against Dayton on August 18. Over his final four starts in the regular season, Castro allowed one run on 10 hits across 23.2 innings while striking out 24.
Come playoff time, Castro was dominant again. He carried a no-hitter into the seventh before getting pulled during a 1-0 game with a pitch count of 85. He allowed one run on four hits in 12.1 playoff innings for the Midwest League champions.
‘The only thing was that at the beginning of the year he didn't want to throw his changeup a lot," Dascenzo said. "And why would you when you throw a 94 mph fastball? He found out that only two pitches could get him through the lineup twice, and he realized that the third pitch allowed him to not only get through the line up three times but four times as well; and throwing a no-hitter. A seven-inning no-hitter this year and also taking a no-hitter into game one of round one against South Bend, which he ended up having to come out of the ballgame. Just a tremendous, tremendous individual; great fastball, big league slider, and getting a very, very good feel for his changeup."
"This kid – going back to the first day he was up here throwing in the bullpen and I could picture that ball flying everywhere," Padres roving pitching coordinator Mike Couchee said. "To me, in my seven years over here, he is by far the one prospect who has made the largest strides and biggest improvements year in and year out. He keeps getting better and better.
"If you saw him three years ago, you wouldn't have thought it was the same guy. He has progressed more mentally and physically in three years than anyone that I have ever been around. We talk to him and he speaks better English than any of the other Latin kids we brought in at the same time. He's on a mission. We give him something to work on, he does it and just keeps getting better.
"The stuff has never been an issue. He has a great arm. He has, by far, progressed further, quicker than anybody else that I have seen."
Repeatable mechanics were a focal point over the last three years. He has found a delivery that works with a consistent release point from a near three-quarters angle. Being under control has helped immensely.
"When he stays on top of the baseball, he has dynamite, electric stuff," Bradley said. "It is only a matter of time before he starts moving up. He has a great future in front of him. We wanted him to be on top because he has a tendency when his body gets in front of his arm, he rushes, and his arm slot drops to three-quarters. That is when the ball goes arm side high. He misses up and in to a right-handed hitter. He has to shorten his feet – just keep his feet closer together – to be in better balance. He can keep his arm slot up so he can get that downward action."
Fastball command had been an issue in the past, but he has become finer with his control. Throwing it in the low-90s with consistency, he has found that he gets better results than when he rears back and chucks it at 96 mph – which he is also capable of doing.
Success follows, however, when he is under control and not trying to overthrow. His velocity should continue to rise, as he becomes more comfortable with his repeatable mechanics. Castro can also throw a rising fastball around eye level that is tough for hitters to lay off. When he does not follow through on his delivery of this pitch, the ball tends to rise arm side, out of the zone. It will result in hit batsmen to right-handed hitters.
He has worked on throwing a two-seamer with positive results. It is a low-90s offering that has a shade of movement, making him that much deadlier. Every challenge presented has taken time to achieve, but he has overcome all of his shortcomings. This is one that figures to be mastered in San Antonio this season.
Castro also has a plus slider that is a put-away pitch. Its tight spin and sharp movement. The success of the tilt comes from his ability to finish with his follow-through of the offering. When he short-arms his delivery and does not get full extension, the slider will flatten out.
"He's obviously got two plus pitches, he's got an above average fastball," Bradley said. "He throws a two-seamer that he worked on to get in there on right-handed hitters. His slider is an out pitch, it's a plus. It's a nasty two-plane pitch at times. He throws it for strikes and he keeps it down, and his changeup got a lot better. That's the one pitch that he needs to refine further, and when he does, I think you're really going to see rapid movement. He just has to be more consistent with his arm speed, but it got a lot better as the season went on, and he's going to continue to work on it. I look for great things for him in 2010. He's great to work with, really improved, did all his work and it paid off. It did."
The changeup has come a long way over the last two years. It has gone from a show-me pitch to one that he can deliver in all counts. He has confidence in the pitch and can throw it for strikes or use it to expand the zone. It will come in, at times, a little too hard, but he keeps the same delivery and arm speed, throwing batters out in front.
"You will see signs where he throws two or three really good ones – sequences two or three really good ones – and then will throw a couple that are too hard," Bradley said. "It is a very, very tough pitch to learn how to throw. The rewards are tremendous. I think by him watching Bass and Schmidt – guys who have good changeups, he is coming around."
"He's got command of a good, above-average fastball, above-average slider, and a changeup that's probably major league average now but it's getting there," Cluck said. "He's going to be over the hump, and be above-average. I mean this guy's got starting pitcher all over him, he's just what we want."
High pitch counts remain an issue for the right-hander. He has bouts of wildness that run deep counts, but Castro has improved his ability to battle back and get the necessary out. In previous years, when he was behind in the count, those hitters would reach via a walk.
Castro is a confident pitcher with immense maturity for his age. He knows what he has to do to succeed and takes lessons learned and applies them quickly. His grasp of the English language is continually growing, and he has been a pioneer in learning the language for his fellow Latin American prospects.
He is also a natural leader that keeps things loose in the clubhouse. It is an energy that is infectious.
"He's a great, great person," Bradley said. "He's great in the clubhouse, always has a smile on his face. He doesn't get down, really works hard. I give Razor, Dave Rajsich a lot of credit along with Bronswell Patrick, guys who have worked with him prior to me having him because those guys really contributed to the success he had.
He is not a good fielder, as he often stands too tall and does not have the balance to field and make accurate throws. He has improved his ability to hold runners and benefits from a quick delivery and high-octane fastball. He and his catchers threw out 8-of-22 runners attempting to steal, good for 36.4 percent.
"He threw 95 when we first signed him and had no clue where it was going," former Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "As he got older, he not only gained more coordination in his body but learned that location is better than just pure velocity. Right now, he sits at around 90-93, he might touch 94 or 95, but he is developing into a pitcher and has so much room to still develop the velocity will probably start coming back. Not a whole lot of starters out there can consistently throw 95.
"He is the poster boy of what young, raw pitchers with that much velocity need to do; scale back, learn mechanics, get consistency and start to build a more consistent delivery. He has an unlimited ceiling and is very intelligent."
"His work ethic and intelligence just separated him from just about everybody from the get go," Smith said. "Castro, I think he's got a chance to be a front line starting pitcher. And I don't think that's too far away either. I've said this privately, and I guess I'll say it publicly now too. I think he could possibly be the Mat Latos of 2010. This guy just jumps all the way up and makes an impact. This kid is special."
Conclusion: Castro has frontline starter material – and the Padres know it, starting him in Double-A San Antonio this season. With two true plus pitches and a third that grades out as average, he can keep hitters off-balance. Castro must learn to limit his pitch counts to go deep into games rather than leaving things up to middle relief. If he can master his control even further, the sky is the limit for the talented right-hander. It may be hard for him to induce early contact because his stuff is so good but that could be a path to longer outings.
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