Castner eyeing mid-season return

SURPRISE, Ariz. - Scouts have always been intrigued by Kevin Castner's power arm, but the pitcher has been hampered by injury and control issues throughout his career. Lone Star Dugout caught up with the 22-year-old, who is optimistic about his recovery from Tommy John surgery.

The Texas Rangers had their eye on right-hander Kevin Castner throughout his collegiate career at Cal Poly.

The right-hander was initially selected by the Rangers in the 10th round of the 2008 MLB Draft as a redshirt sophomore, following a season in which he posted a 5.46 ERA in 29.2 innings. Castner had allowed 24 hits while walking 25 and walking 40.

As Castner explains in the following interview, both parties knew something would had to be done about his ailing right elbow, and the Rangers offered to sign him to a relatively low bonus, but they also offered to have Tommy John surgery right away.

The 6-foot-4, 230-pound hurler instead opted to have some bone spurs and chips removed from his elbow and returned to Cal Poly for his redshirt junior season. Castner played the season with inconsistent command and velocity, and the final result was a 7.08 ERA with 22 walks and 22 strikeouts in 20.1 innings.

Because he still had a power arm with potential, the Rangers selected Castner in the 26th round of the '09 draft, and he signed without issue.

Unfortunately, shortly after going to Spokane, it became painfully obvious that Castner would require surgery. In four appearances with the Indians, he logged just 1.2 innings, yielding 12 runs on eight hits and four walks.

Even while pitching with a bum elbow, Castner worked between 93-95 mph for the majority of his collegiate career, and he has touched the upper-90s at times. His sharp slider can also be a swing-and-miss pitch, making Castner a legitimate back-end bullpen prospect if he consistently throws strikes.

Obviously whether or not Castner will be a different pitcher after surgery remains to be seen, but his raw potential alone makes him one of the organization's most interesting relief arms and a name to keep an eye on.

Jason Cole: You signed and came into professional baseball last season, and you only got to pitch in a handful of games before having Tommy John surgery. How early was it that you knew surgery was coming?

Kevin Castner: My biggest thing–because I was trying to stay healthy–I tried to get as strong as I could at the end of my college year to maintain arm strength. I wanted to see how much more mileage I could get out of my arm before the inevitable.

Cole: So you knew coming into it that you were going to need surgery at some point?

Castner: I knew early on through my college career that I did something to my elbow and that I needed to address the issue. But the problem was that I was having good results, and good results kind of messed up the whole mentality that I was hurt. Velocity would kind of show up every once in awhile, and it would trick you into being healthy. It was a bad elbow the whole time.

Cole: After the Rangers drafted you in 2008, didn't you have some bone chips removed from your right elbow?

Castner: Yeah, I had some bone chips and spurs removed by Dr. Yocum.

Cole: Even after that procedure, did you still know your elbow wasn't 100 percent right?

Castner: Yeah. Coming off of that surgery, my arm felt great. I was hitting velocities I was used to. Pain and range of motion was back to normal. But I believe that process in its entirety wasn't the best. I got shortchanged I believe, and what I feel bad about now is that I was given the option by the Rangers to get the surgery by Dr. Meister and do the best rehab you can get, and I chose to go back to school to hopefully seek better options. But looking back, I wish I did sign in '08 to get the surgery and be on my way earlier.

Cole: When you were pitching in Spokane, did it feel the same as your last year at Cal Poly, or could you tell something was different?

Castner: I definitely could tell something was different. I wouldn't be able to bend my arm past 90 degrees when I would pitch. I think a big thing was the time off after the college season into the Spokane season. It really took a toll on my arm, and it wasn't ready to compete.

Cole: So it was just really taking time off and then firing it back up to full-speed all the sudden?

Castner: Yeah. Pitching all year, then a good week off of throwing, then trying to pick it back up again. That did some damage.

Cole: How did you come to the decision to have Tommy John? Did the Rangers approach you about it, or did you have to go to them and say you needed the surgery?

Castner: I finally got the nerve and guts to go up to the Spokane staff and tell them my arm was killing me and we needed to do something. A few days after that, they decided to send me here to Arizona to meet with Matt Lucero and Bobier and see what the options were.

I took two weeks off of throwing and lifting altogether. After that two weeks, they had an MRI and they discovered my elbow ligament was completely degenerated. They wondered why I hadn't gotten the surgery earlier. But they finally got it done by Dr. Meister.

Cole: Tell me about the rehab process since then. What has it been like? Have you had any major setbacks since then?

Castner: No setbacks so far, thankfully. They try to hold you back as much as they can while on the days you're supposed to go full-go, they really encourage you to push it and test it and see how far you can take it without re-injuring it. But in terms of running, lifting and stretching, it's a whole other ballgame. It's great. I have 100 percent confidence that I'll be coming back stronger.

Cole: When did you have the surgery?

Castner: I had the surgery July 27th. As of right now, I'm three weeks ahead of the throwing program. I have kind of graduated a little bit earlier and I'm scheduled for early-July to be pitching in the AZL for my rehab stint.

Cole: What point in the rehab are you at right now?

Castner: I'm on my first week of throwing at 120 feet. Today I threw one set of 120, and next week I'll have two sets of 120 feet. And then the week after that, I'll be graduated to flat ground. It's only a matter of time before I'm actually on the mound and working on bullpens.

Cole: I'm sure you're already thinking about getting back on the mound in a competitive situation. Do you know if you're going to be any different as a pitcher? Are you going to do things different mechanically? Are you going to change your stuff?

Castner: Just the fact that I'm going to have confidence in my arm and I'm going to know that it is fixed. I'm going to be able to attack the zone and not have to worry about any outside stuff like injury. I know fastball and attacking hitters was huge for me when I was healthy–going right after guys with fastball-slider. That's what I plan to do, and hopefully I can have that arm strength I'm used to and pitch the way I've gone about it my whole life.

Cole: I know a lot of guys gain velocity after Tommy John. Given the fact that you were pitching with a hurt elbow for a few years, do you expect to have increased–if not just more consistent–velocity when you return?

Castner: Yeah, definitely more consistency. I'm pretty confident I will be getting that velocity that I'm used to, but I would like to maintain it throughout the entire outing. That would be something that I'm definitely shooting for as a goal. Just to sit where I'm used to from Cal Poly.

Cole: Have you started to set any expectations for yourself this season? Anything you want to have accomplished by the end of the year?

Castner: Knowing that I'm 22 now and I'm going to be 23 in August, I want to get back in early July, pitch in the AZL and do the best I can. I want to attack the zone, throw strikes, and I'd like to move up either back to Spokane or possibly Hickory. Knowing my age and knowing what I need to do to move up in this highly competitive atmosphere, I think that's the best option. That's my goal.

Cole: Sitting around the complex in Arizona for so long, you see a lot of baseball, even though you aren't getting to play. Have you been able to pick up some things on the mental aspect during your rehab?

Castner: Definitely. Keith Comstock is great. I hang out with him all day long. He shows me everything in terms of grips, in terms of mentality, and he helps you watching hitters. Being around the coaching staff here in Spring Training has also helped out a lot. I may not be able to be out there on the mound, but I'm still learning a lot.

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