What do we know about Luis Castillo? We know he just threw 8.0 innings of one run baseball against the Marlins. We know the Reds traded the man facing him — Dan Straily — to bring Luis to Cincinnati. We know he can hit 98 mph in the eighth inning on his 105th pitch as easily as asking him to draw breath or blink perhaps. We know that he’s 24, his middle name is Miguel, and he has the full weight of Redleg Nation’s hopes on his shoulder for the next few years to come.

Luis Castillo is special, and as I write that, I feel like I’m typing his death sentence. Robert Stephenson was special. Cody Reed was special. Brandon Finnegan, Nick Michael Lorenzen, Raisel Iglesias — all special.

Special is word to be used when you’ve bankrolled desperation and are cashing it out for 200/1 odds on hope. Not every Reds’ pitcher who has been deemed special has washed out. In fact, Raisel Iglesias is still special, just in a lessened role that doesn’t carry as much hope.

But Luis Castillo. What we know about Luis Castillo is hope.

Luis is a guy we can really build around moving forward. He’s got ace stuff, that’s for sure,” Tucker Barnhart says after his 8.0 inning game, stoking the fire of hope. “Luis certainly, I’m sure, has given our position players reason to be excited every time he takes the mound,” Bryan Price adds, letting the fans know that he, and the team, feels it too.

The fans feel it, the team feels it, hopefully the front office feels it, but is any of this hope unfounded? Have we latched onto a false savior after a year of starting prospects coming up just short?

Let’s start with the basics and where they put expectations versus reality:

First reaction “Man, he looks like Cueto.”

Expectations: Too High | Reality: Could be something

Repertoire 97 mph Fastball; 87 mph Changeup; 85 mph Slider; Sinker?

Expectations: Could he be better than Cueto? | Reality: Straight fastball, meaty slider

Early Results 48.0 inning, 3.56 ERA, 4.05 FIP, 26.2 K%, 9.2 BB%

Expectations: Cueto had worse growing pains | Reality: A lot of walks, a lot of dingers

Expectations have far surpassed reality, but reality still ain’t half bad.

Castillo does look like Cueto in his mechanics, but where Cueto learned to control his tendency to flail and make it deceptive, Castillo’s is still just a byproduct of rearing back and letting loose. There’s nothing wrong with it per se, but if he can channel that excess energy especially with a pitch like the sinker, his repertoire could get even more dangerous.

Castillo’s changeup is perhaps the most devastating part of his arsenal, leaving his hand the same way as his fastball before the bottom falls out. At this point, Castillo’s floor is a knockout closer with the fastball/changeup combo. The slider still needs some work but can be a promising pitch with some development. It doesn’t break quite hard enough to be a strikeout pitch, but it’s definitely a good mid-count misdirection.

Currently, Castillo’s major shortcomings have been walks and dingers, though he has trended in a positive direction, decreasing the rates of each, as he’s started more. Also, Castillo had pinpoint control in the minors, only walking 6.5% of batters faced across all of his minor league seasons. The early erratic performances were probably just Major League jitters, and truly any semblance of control at any level puts Castillo above the strike zone-phobic Stephenson, Garrett, Reed, etc.

His fastball is far too hittable once hitters get the timing down, so Castillo will have to learn to get ahead and then mix in some deception. The sinker is a fantastic step for his future as a potential ace, as it gives him something with speed and a little movement, the biggest hole in his game prior to last week.

It’s that last point — the proven ability to learn — that justifies all of the hope put on Luis Castillo so far. Past doppelgangers, pitch types, and early results, Castillo has proven he has the hunger to take the mantle of this starting rotation. That’s not something the Nation has seen yet this year. Stephenson, Reed, Garrett, Finnegan — none have taken the ball and refused to give it back. That may be a reductive way to think of prospect development, but finally seeing a young pitcher with a fire in his belly is enlivening.

In that 8.0 inning start, Tucker Barnhart called for a glove side sinker on Castillo’s 105th pitch of the game. It torched Marlins shortstop Miguel Rosas at 97 mph for a called strike three. It was the most difficult placement for a pitch that Castillo had learned just that week at the end of a long start when fatigue should’ve been setting in.

“Mechanically you have to be so on-point to get it over there and make it move like he was doing,” Barnhart said after the game.

“It was special.”

20 Responses

  1. sultanofswaff

    Both in stature and mechanically, he looks more like Yordano Ventura or Pedro Martinez to me.

  2. A-Dub (@AWMathis)

    Castillo has also faced a juggernaut of a schedule thus far. Before Miami his schedule included facing Arizona twice, Washington twice, Colorado once, and the Yankees. He managed to hold his composure pretty well through those starts.

  3. R Lamanna

    I think u r wrong abt Garrett.He is very intelligent and willing to learn and he does have fire in his belly.Reds derailed his momentum by picking a poor time to send him to Louisville. Then he got hurt and his mechanics have been a little off since then.He will be back.

  4. WA

    I don’t understand the reality of Castillo having a straight fastball. It seems to me, that the four seamer has more movement than league average in the x direction and roughly league average(slightly below) in the z for right handed pitchers.

    Average Fastball movement 2015


    Horizontal Movement


    Vertical Movement


    • WA

      Sorry for the links, but they can get you where you need to go to see the data.

  5. IndyRedMan

    I love this kid! He has good control for a rookie that throws 99-100 mph! He’s also not trying to K everyone which is something many hard throwers never overcome! If you can jam a guy on a 1-1 pitch then you might be around in the 7th inning! The big question is can he stay healthy because that’s the only thing that can derail him. Thor from the Mets couldn’t stay out there. Its not easy when you throw that hard. Gerritt Cole has been pretty durable so its possible!

  6. Ben

    hat’s not something the Nation has seen yet this year. Stephenson, Reed, Garrett, Finnegan — none have taken the ball and refused to give it back.

    Amir Garrett was on fire before he was demoted to AAA. I guess he’s doing badly enough now that you can’t argue he should be playing in the majors, but it seemed like demoting him was as bad for him as any growing pains would have been.

    • Matthew Habel

      I agree, Garrett’s start to the year, seemingly decades ago at this point, brought very similar hope which has all but vanished. Hopefully Luis continues what he has started

    • Dewey Roberts

      That was my thought also. I was afraid they would mess with his psyche by sending him down when he was doing well. It sure looks like they did. Garrett’s problems are on the front office now. They need to quit playing yo-yo with young pitchers.

    • Westfester

      I would argue it’s not fair to have Finnegan in this statement. You can’t predict injuries.

  7. big5ed

    I don’t get the Cueto comparison. Castillo is 3 inches taller (at least) and not nearly as stocky as Cueto, but Castillo has a looser arm. He throws harder, too. They are both Dominican, but Rosanne Barr and Scarlett Johansson are both American. Zack Greinke or Chris Archer might be plausible comps on body type, although Castillo throws harder.

    Don’t agree on the straight fastball, either.

    Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. He is one of the best Reds Pitching Prospects in a couple of generations. He could get hurt tomorrow, or he could be a permanent ace. But he has Jim Maloney-type upside.

    • Wesley Jenkins

      I meant more on the pitching mechanics side than physical appearance when I said “looks like” but I also agree with the above person who mentioned Yordano Ventura

  8. JB WV

    In a year of mostly disappointing outings from the young guns, Castillo and Mahle give us renewed hope of forming a tough rotation for the future. Thanks for the line from last night Doofus.

    • IndyRedMan

      Stephenson hasn’t even been throwing as hard as he did the last few years. He was about 93 last time out. He’s 3-1 on everyone so he needs 96 atleast? I don’t see Stephenson or Reed making it. I still have hopes for Garrett but only because he’s a lefty and very athletic. Most likely back of the rotation or a loogy type.

  9. IndyRedMan

    Jacob DeGrom is a decent comparison although he’s a little taller and rangy compared to Castillo. Someone mentioned the late Yordana Ventura but he was about 175 (at most) when he came up. Ventura threw 100 but seemed to regress? He never had the control or the offspeed stuff of Castillo. DeGrom is prob as close as it gets for right now.

    DeGrom 3.29 with .227 batting avg allowed. 1 hr every 7.35 innings
    Castillo 3.56 with .225 batting avg allowed. 1 hr every 6.8 innings

  10. george

    You beat me to it!. Mahle was not scheduled to start last night because as of 1pm yesterday it was still listed as TBD. Mahle has demonstrated the ability to throw strikes and limit damage. Last night he started the top of the ninth and walked two batters and was pulled. His next scheduled start will be Sunday, just maybe he will be called up. He isn’t on the 40 man roster but Van Slyke is???Come September The rotation could be Homer, Disco, Castillo, Mahle and TBD. I will take that.

  11. Streamer88

    Cueto came into his own when he took an MPH or two off the FB for better run (movement into the hands of RH hitter) and accuracy. Jeurys Familia for the Mets has some of the best FB run I’ve ever seen. Only throws one pitch, and always on RH side of the plate, still unhittable though all know it’s coming.

    Bottom line, whether it’s Cuetos run, Johans changeup, Randy Johnsons slider, we tend to attribute singular improvements that allow pitchers to excel. But these tweaks merely belie the actual reason for success: young men with supreme arm talent maturing into responsible men who take their job and craft seriously. I can tell you personally that a 5 man rotation makes for lots of potential for resting on your laurels, and it’s those who mature (like Cueto and many others) with an obsession for maximizing their talent that become the greats. Here’s hoping Castillo, and others in our system, have this ahead.