Often times some of the most significant major league rookie season contributions arise from players left off the prospect rankings published in the industry. Some of these players are beyond the top 100 lists or buried in an organizational top 25. In recent years one might recall Ruben Tejada, Paul Goldschmidt, Mark Trumbo, Tom Milone, Wade Miley, Kelvin Herrera, Michael Fiers, Anthony Bass and Salvador Perez. These kind of prospects are often AAA tested and quietly poised to make a rookie splash. They sometimes have had more time in the minors under their belt including seasons with less than stellar numbers. But given the opportunity, they emerge from the relative anonymity of minor league baseball and thrive in the bright lights of the majors.
In 2013, Simon Castro seems ready to grab a spot in the White Sox pitching staff and hold onto it for seasons to come. Castro turns 25 in April and has been toiling in the minors for the past seven seasons. Simon established himself on the prospect scene in 2009 with a nice full season debut for the Fort Wayne TinCaps in the Midwest League. During that season, he hurled a seven-inning no hitter against the Dayton Dragons. Castro was twice recognized as the Midwest League pitcher of the week in August of 2009. He finished that season leading the MWL in strikeouts with 157, fifth in earned run average (3.33), second in walks and hits per innings pitched (1.10), while walking only 37 over 140.1 innings.
In 2010, Castro continued his progression in the Texas League. While his strikeout ratios took a hit, his earned run average was 2.92 over 129.2 innings in AA. Castro surrendered 36 walks and 107 hits for a 1.10 whip. Baseball America ranked Castro as the 58th best prospect after the 2010 season. To start the 2011 season the Padres promoted Castro to AAA Tucson where the pitcher struggled allowing five homeruns and 18 walks over six starts and 25.2 innings. Pacific Coast League hitters welcomed him to their circuit by hitting .333 off the righty. Castro was then placed on the disabled list for a month with an injury to his lat muscle (the lat is the largest muscle on the human back and controls shoulder and arm movement). Upon his return, the Padres decided to send him back to San Antonio – a demotion. Castro responded by pitching decently during the rest of the season in his second tour of the Texas League (4.33era; 73 strikeouts; 89.1 innings). This was enough to send Castro off Baseball America’s top 100 rankings prior to the 2012 season. Castro was listed as the 14th best prospect in the San Diego organization in the prospect handbook, behind Keyvius Sampson, Juan Oramas, and Jaff Decker.
Then on the last day of 2011 came Castro’s trade to the White Sox for Carlos Quentin. Chicago decided to be careful with Castro and started him in the Southern League to start the 2012 season. During his Southern League campaign, Castro struck out 72 while walking 21 over 90 innings. The White Sox then gave Castro another shot at AAA in June. This time Castro was decent at the highest level of the minors, good enough for a 4.32 earned run average over 25 innings. While the numbers were not that impressive, Castro looked very capable and at times dominant during his first go around through the International League.
On June 23, 2012, Simon Castro made his International League debut against the Rochester Red Wings, the AAA affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, a lineup that featured several decent bats. While Rochester managed to score seven runs against Castro, they benefited significantly from swinging bunts, legitimate bunts and poor defense. Five days later Castro dominated Pawtucket over seven innings: striking out nine, walking none, and surrendering four singles. Against Buffalo on July 20, Castro gave up one hit over five innings while striking out three. Based on the play-by-play call during these games, Castro’s fastball often hit 93 on the radar gun. More importantly, Castro was able to keep the fastball low in the zone and had good sinking movement to it. He throws a “heavy” fastball. Castro’s second best pitch is his slider. Castro was able to lure hitters to swing at sliders ducking out of the zone late. This two-pitch combination puts Castro very close. He rarely threw his changeup and his curve was inconsistent. If Castro can harness his curve or his changeup into just slightly better pitches, he could become a very effective pitcher in Chicago this year. I wouldn’t be surprised if in the future Castro eventually adds a split finger pitch to his arsenal.
Over three seasons, from 2005 to 2007, a similarly built pitcher, Jose Contreras, collected 38 wins and worked 589.2 innings for pitching coach Don Cooper. Six years later, Cooper will have the opportunity to work with the 6’5” and 230 pound Castro. When watching Castro hold the baseball with his right hand behind his back as he leans in, one can observe how small the ball looks in his hand and how big his hand look holding the baseball. His physical presence instills confidence. Castro’s delivery is interesting. When going from the full windup, Castro eschews the traditional back towards center field posture. Instead, Castro takes the signal from the catcher with his hands together in the set position almost as if runners were on base. He initiates his motion by stepping towards first with his left foot and then kicks and twists that leg up and back. Castro’s hands rock above and over his head. His motion allows him to coil and create tension before firing forward. While not particularly clean or traditional, it looks somewhat sound for a pitcher of his physical makeup.
While unlikely to come out of Spring Training in the White Sox rotation, 2013 should be the year that Castro makes his major league debut on the South Side. As a result of some performance regression and injury troubles that should be viewed as the natural course of a pitcher’s development, Castro has fallen off the front burner of the prospect industry. Nevertheless, because of his maturity and existing pitching abilities, Castro could make a big splash in his rookie season.