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This truth is worth repeating when you worry about Ryan Castellani’s struggles in a repeat trip to Double-A in 2018: he was (and still is) just 22 the whole season, 2.4 years younger than the league on average and only four months older than Brady Singer, the #18 overall pick in the 2018 draft. If he’d have gone the college route instead of signing as Colorado’s 2nd round pick in 2014 for $1.1 million, Castellani might only now be emerging from short season ball.
With that said, Castellani had a tough 2018 in Hartford that knocked him off the smooth prospect path he had enjoyed up until that point. Indeed, 2018 was the first year that Castellani had repeated a level. Before 2018, Castellani had posted four straight seasons with a FIP below 4.00 and had led his league in both innings pitched and strikeouts in 2016 and 2017 while being the youngest ERA qualifier at each level. Something seemed off about Castellani in Spring Training though, and the Rockies sent him back to Double-A to figure it out. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like that happened.
Castellani made 26 starts in 2018, only one fewer than he did at the level in 2017, but he threw 23 fewer innings in those starts (134 1⁄3 total), almost an inning less per start. His ERA was 5.49 (up from 4.81) and his FIP was 5.21 (up from 3.99), while the K/9 (6.1 vs. 7.6) and BB/9 (4.7 vs. 2.7) rates were both worse compared to the prior year as well. It was an up and down season. Castellani had a 2.05 ERA through April but he had a terrible May (8.33 ERA), followed by an average June (4.30 ERA) and an awful July (7.98 ERA). Castellani settled down for a serviceable 3.57 ERA in August before a poor start to end the season in September.
Castellani was then selected for the Arizona Fall League, where he posted a 5.13 ERA over 7 starts in which he accumulated 26 1⁄3 innings with a nice 10.6 K/9 rate and a still elevated 4.8 BB/9 rate.
Here’s some video of Castellani in the AFL, courtesy of 2080 Baseball:
In the report accompanying the above video, Adam McInturff of 2080 Baseball provides insights on Castellani based on AFL viewings, including more granular grades on each of his offerings. It’s…not positive. Here was his conclusion for Castellani:
Physical frame and flashes of hard sinker/slider combo give raw ingredients of 7th inning setup reliever, but has a ways to go w/ control and overall pitchability to make an impact at ML level.
In their recent write-up of Colorado’s system, Baseball Prospectus left Castellani out of the system’s top 15. Their thoughts on him were not optimistic:
The vagaries of the schedule meant I didn’t catch Castellani until the last couple weeks of the season, but he again looked liked a different pitcher, in not in a good way. His slot was higher, his arm action more rigid. Gone was the athletic delivery that garnered physical comps to Max Scherzer. There was more effort to sit 89-91, the slider was slurvier, and he just didn’t look right. You’d catch glimpses of the 2017 top prospect—a fastball that bored in under a lefty’s hands, a mid-80s slider with late tilt, but if you only saw him last year, you wouldn’t be filing him as an acquire. Twenty-three in Double-A, even as a double repeater, isn’t a prospect death sentence. But pitchers, man.
FanGraphs put Castellani 6th in the system with a 45 FV tag in May:
Neither Castellani’s stuff nor his command were crisp this spring, and he was knocked around in big-league games then sent to repeat Double-A, where his strike-throwing issues have continued. If he bounces back he could be a No. 4, if not he’ll be a three-pitch reliever.
It should be noted that the FanGraphs guys also saw Castellani in the AFL and had more positive reports on him there than 2080 did (take a listen on this podcast for more, starting at the 66 minute mark).
MLB.com currently has Castellani 10th in the system:
Castellani’s fastball sat around 90 mph in high school but now runs from 92-97 mph with arm-side run and sink that should help him deal with Coors Field. When he doesn’t get around his low-80s slider, he shows the ability to throw it for strikes and to back-foot it against left-handers. His fading changeup slipped a little in 2017 but can be a solid pitch when he maintains his arm speed and slot when he throws it.
Colorado officials compare his less-than-smooth mechanics to Max Scherzer’s, and like the three-time Cy Young Award winner in his younger days, Castellani’s biggest need is consistent command. He had repeated his delivery well and thrown strikes in the past, but inconsistency with his mechanics has led to his struggles in 2018. He’s still just 22, so he has plenty of time to turn things around.
The above evaluation is highlighted by 60 fastball and 55 slider grades, accompanied by 50 change-up and 50 control evaluations. Given Castellani’s recent struggles, those may be outdated at this point, but it’s still a compelling repertoire that has starter potential.
Obviously this year’s step back has been discouraging for Castellani. Something isn’t quite right with the 6’4” righty and we can only hope he will recover his prior form. He’s got some mechanical issues that need to be worked out, but if he does he’s a solid bet to be a starter at the Major League level, likely in 2020. It’s likely that Castellani will start 2019 in Hartford again, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he climbed the ladder to Triple-A quickly.
Given his 40 man roster slot (secured after the 2018 season), it’s possible Castellani sees big league time this year, but if he does it’s because of either a massive injury calamity or a fantastic breakout campaign. Despite the bumps this year, I’m still a believer in Castellani’s potential as a starter, which is why I ranked him 9th in the system with a 45 Future Value tag as a number 4 starter.