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Did Miguel Castro prove that he is ready for a starting job?

The 22-year-old right-hander was an unexpected contributor in 2017, and could now be depended on for more next year

Cleveland Indians v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

It was a tough summer in Birdland. Few things went in the Orioles favor, especially when it came to pitching. However, Miguel Castro managed to come out of nowhere to be a dependable member of the Baltimore bullpen. He was so good, in fact, that the righty now has his sights set on the starting rotation in 2018. Let’s just hope that this September wasn’t a harbinger of doom.

Castro became an Oriole back on April 7, when he arrived from the Colorado Rockies in exchange for a player to be named later. That player turned out to be right-handed pitcher Jon Keller, a 25-year-old that had a 5.80 ERA in 24 games across Aberdeen, Frederick and Bowie this season. Of course, there is a long way to go, but it would seem the O’s are set up to get the better end of that deal. Castro will only be 23 next summer.

Despite how young he is, Castro came to Charm City with MLB experience already in tow. The flamethrower made his big league debut with the Blue Jays in 2015 and had also pitched with Colorado in the show over the previous two campaigns. That’s an impressive resumé for a guy who can’t even rent a car yet.

Castro made six appearances for the Baysox before really establishing himself in the Baltimore ‘pen during July. That month, he made 12 appearances and put together a 3.07 ERA while opposing hitters slashed .208/.232/.396. He followed that up with an even better August, where he had a 1.50 ERA and an opponent’s slash line of .175/.253/.250.

But the wheels kinda fell off the wagon for Miguel in September. In eight games, he threw 15.1 innings, pitched to a 7.04 ERA and allowed at least one run in his final seven appearances of the year.

The poor finish led to some less eye-popping overall numbers. Castro ended the year with a 3.53 ERA in 39 games and 66.1 innings. He struck out 38 hitters and walked 28. Baseball Reference credited him with a 0.9 WAR, but Fangraphs wasn’t too pleased with his productivity, saddling him with a -0.1 WAR.

Gasp! How could Castro end up with such a bad WAR? He was getting outs. He is the savior to the Baltimore rotation. He throws really hard!

Basically, the righty got kind of lucky all year. He doesn’t strike out enough batters (5.16 K/9) and walks way too many (3.8 BB/9), but managed to work around it by having a very favorable batting average against on balls put in play (.227) and a low home run rate (11.8% HR/FB). So, in reality how good was he? That is likely reflected in his less-than-ideal 4.94 FIP and 5.19 xFIP.

However, a lot of those struggles occurred in the season’s final month, as noted before. It’s possible Castro was getting tired. He threw 66.1 innings in 2017 compared to 30.1 innings in 2016 and 38.1 innings in 2015. He’s a young guy that still needs to learn how to pace himself.

That should be a concern about moving him to the rotation so quickly. Obviously, starting is a totally different animal that requires a much bigger workload, albeit on a regular, pre-determined schedule. He had been a starter in the minors, but has made just six starts since 2014, including one with the Orioles this year.

Another troubling sign could be the situations in which Castro made his mark. As a young, promising bullpen arm, manager Buck Showalter likely protected Castro as much as possible. Of those 66.1 innings, 43.2 of them came in low leverage situations, where he was great (.213/.293/.375). When the difficulty got ramped up to medium leverage, Castro wilted (.271/.389/.457) in 13 innings, but in his 9.2 innings of high leverage work he was fantastic again (.156/.250/.258). All are small sample sizes, so take it with a grain of salt.

As a starter, you don’t get to pick and choose scenarios to pitch. Those scenarios choose you, and it can be a baptism by fire in MLB. Castro has already had quite the up and down career, and the Orioles have a recent history of screwing up young starters with supreme talent. If he is going to be a member of the rotation, it needs to be on a long-term basis, not a start-by-start guessing game.

It should be an uneventful offseason for Castro. Other teams may ask about him, but the Orioles have him under control until 2023. Unless he can help bring the Birds an ace starting pitcher, it’s difficult to see him being moved.

Instead, Castro can expect to have an expanded role next summer. As has been discussed ad nauseam, the Orioles could possibly have three rotation spots to fill. Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman are etched in stone, and the club will almost certainly have to go find one veteran arm on the free agent market to give the team a solid base. Beyond that, it seems like they want to give some of the in-house candidates a chance to win the jobs.

You know the names by now; Alec Asher, Gabriel Ynoa, Tyler Wilson, Mike Wright and Yefrey Ramirez. These are all OK pitchers. But are any of them good enough to be starters on a regular basis? It seems unlikely. Chris Lee had a tough season and is now dropping down the prospect pecking order. The only real promising arm with a chance to contribute early and often in 2018 is Castro.

How the Orioles handle him will be interesting to see. If he impresses in spring training, will that be enough time to prepare him for the season? Will they have the patience to work out the kinks at the highest level? Should he spend a month at Norfolk and get into the starting rhythm there? Or should he just stay in the bullpen, where he has proven to be effective?

Up next: Donnie Hart