Orioles manager Buck Showalter added further confirmation Tuesday to what looked to be a pretty safe bet when last season ended. That is that right-hander Miguel Castro will get a look for a rotation spot in spring training.
And why not? He’s a young guy with a good arm and the Orioles surely need starting pitchers right now. The Orioles’ trade last April 7 for Castro from Colorado was an under-the-radar move that could pay off for years to come. That is if Castro continues to show the promise and potential he showed last year when he went 3-3 with a 3.53 ERA over 66 1/3 innings. He had an ERA of 2.38 in early September before he appeared to tire in his final outings.
The Orioles added Castro for a player to be named later, which eventually turned out to be right-hander Jon Keller. He was the Orioles’ 22nd-round pick in 2013. Castro won’t even be arbitration-eligible until the end of 2019 and is not eligible to be a free agent until the end of 2022. That is a nice arm to have under team control for five more seasons.
Now we wait to see if Castro - a pitcher that Toronto used briefly as its closer at age 20 in 2015 - can indeed be a starter. By using him in that role, the O’s would lose him as a multi-inning reliever that can impact two or more games per week. That relief role has some real value, too - especially for a club which has been lacking innings from its starting staff in recent seasons.
Among the several challenges for Castro as a starter, count these three near the top of a list: Will he be more effective versus lefty batters? Will he reduce his home run rate? Can he be effective facing hitters two and three times in the same game?
Castro gave up a .193/.263/.310 batting line versus right-handed batters last year with an OPS against of .573. But against lefty batters, those numbers were .272/.369/.478 with an OPS against of .848. Facing teams stacked with lefty hitters as a starter will be a challenge based on those 2017 numbers.
But it’s not like Castro would have to become dominate against lefty batters. Just better. Last year, Dylan Bundy allowed a batting line of .261/.321/.452 and OPS of .773 versus lefties. For Kevin Gausman, those numbers were .275/.361/.446 and .807.
Castro’s effective slider was a big key as he pitched so well against right-handed batters last year. He used the pitch 36 percent of the time when facing a righty batter, yielding an average of just .111. Conversely, he used his changeup 22 percent against lefty batters but gave up an average of .357.
For 98 2/3 career major league innings, most of which came last year for Baltimore, Castro allowed 1.4 homers every nine innings. But his homer rate as an Oriole was 1.1 per nine innings. Nothing wrong with that. That is the same rate as fellow right-hander Mychal Givens. Bundy and Gausman were both at 1.4 per nine last year. We just don’t have enough of a sample of big league innings yet to have any true concern about Castro being a homer-prone pitcher.
As for how he fares against hitters the second and third times through an order, we are just going to have to wait to find out. We don’t know how well his velocity and location will hold up over five, six and seven innings. There is some unknown here.
Spring training will provide us some information on these points, but no definite answers. We never get that in spring. We are just going to have to see if Castro can do it as a starter when the season starts, if they use him in that role.
At just 23, it would be a real plus for the Orioles to see Castro develop into a solid starting pitcher. A real plus. Just how badly they need that to happen depends on which pitchers they can add between now and the start of spring training.