The 2014 season was a coming out party for Tigers pitching prospect Anthony Castro.
Armed with a fastball that scraped the mid-90s, a tight late breaking curveball and a changeup that featured solid depth and arm-speed, Castro took a definitive step forward developmentally in his age 19 season. Widely considered to be one of the Tigers highest upside arms thanks to electric arm-speed, Castro flashed the stuff and put up the numbers to help him emerge as a legit prospect.
Unfortunately Castro's road to the show took a temporary detour, as an injury sustained in winter ball forced Tommy John surgery, causing him to miss the entire 2015 season.
Over the next few months, Anthony Castro has agreed to participate in a three-part series with TigsTown, documenting the Tommy John process and his eventual return to the mound. As the series unfolds we look forward to giving you the reader an inside look at Anthony's journey.
TigsTown: Ok, let's dive right into it Anthony. Do you remember exactly when the injury occurred? Can you describe exactly what it felt like, and when everything happened?
Castro: Yes. It's not something you ever forget. There was a start in December during winter ball in Venezuela; when I played for Leones del Caracas. I threw a changeup I think, and I could definitely feel some pain. I took a few days off, but when I threw again something still wasn't right. I still felt pain. I talked to my pitching coach about the pain and one of the first things they had me do was this:
--Castro then made the "ok sign" with his right-hand by placing his index finger to his thumb.
When I did that, I immediately felt pain in my finger, and down through my forearm to my elbow; which is common if you need Tommy John. That's the first time I thought that I might need Tommy John surgery.
So I shut it down for a bit, then after some time off, I joined the Detroit Tigers for their Winter League, which is after the Caribbean Winter League. I had a couple starts there and everything felt fine. I threw the ball well and I was still throwing my fastball 94-95 mph like I was during GCL. My third inning of my third start I knew something was wrong again though. There was a lot of pain. I finished the inning and there was just too much pain so I told the pitching coach.
TigsTown: So part of you knew you were potentially dealing with Tommy John surgery, right?
Castro: Yes and no. I was really worried but I didn't know for sure. 2015 was supposed to be my year, so I was disappointed that I was in pain. I was trying to stay positive though. They shut me down at that point and had me monitor the pain. I just went back to my house and waited, things didn't get better so around the end of December I notified my pitching coach again in Venezuela that the pain was still pretty bad. At that point I started to get worried. They notified Detroit and sent me to Lakeland early, before I was supposed to report for spring training.
First they tried a cortisone shot to reduce the pain and swelling. They told me if that doesn't work, then you might need Tommy John surgery. I wasn't throwing then, but they had me rehabbing and working out very hard. Right around nine weeks later I started throwing flat ground from 60 feet, every other day and I felt great. Then after a while 90 feet and I still felt great. Until the second week. Then again, I felt really bad pain. Listen, I will never forget that Monday. I started throwing and I could tell that something was very bad again. I threw three or four pitches and it was just too much pain. Unbearable pain. I told myself, I gotta stop, I don't want to cause any further damage to my elbow.
TigsTown: So once you felt that pain and decided to officially shut it down, what was the process with the Tigers like as far as the Tommy John process is concerned?
Castro: They sent me to Tampa to have my elbow checked out. There they explained to me exactly what happened to my elbow and how the surgery would be. Then a while later the surgery was scheduled and then later performed. I was kind of familiar with what was going to happen because a few of my teammates had the surgery last year.
TigsTown: So prior to the surgery did you reach out to any of your teammates that had been through the Tommy John process to get an idea of what to expect?
Castro: Yes. I talked to Endrys Briceno, and Eduardo Jimenez and Bruce Rondon about everything. Bruce had a lot of advice to me as far as the surgery itself and the rehab. He's older than me and he's a big leaguer so he's like a father figure to us young guys. I appreciated his advice. He taught me so much last year when he was in Lakeland rehabbing. He would come to the GCL games and watch us pitch and then give us advice. He's a great guy.
TigsTown: For those who aren't familiar with Tommy John, can you please describe exactly what the surgical process is like?
Castro: They made two small cuts in the underside of my forearm near my wrist and took a ligament out to reattach it to the torn ligament in my elbow. It's weird, they somehow cut the bone open and insert the ligament and then tie it closed. Both your elbow and forearm where the ligament was taken from are pretty sore afterwards. It's a weird feeling. If you actually look at the underside of my forearms now, you can see that they aren't the same. My left arm has more pronounced veins and ligaments exposed when I flex. After the surgery you have to wear a device on your arm to restrict movement for awhile.
TigsTown: So now that the surgery has been completed, what are you up to?
Castro: I'm working hard now on my rehab and I'm trying to gain some weight and get stronger. It's mostly strength and conditioning and range of motion exercise. I'm officially three months removed from the surgery so throwing from flat ground will be the next step. It's an unfortunate situation to have to go through Tommy John surgery. I was really looking forward to this season; especially after last season's success. I'm only 20 years old, but I have a strong mind and I'm not letting this little setback get to me. God has a plan. I am working really hard in my rehab and I look forward to getting back on the mound soon.
Next Up: In the second installment, we will document and discuss Castro's return to the field, baseball activities and any setbacks that may occur.