One more day.
One more day till the self-imposed gauntlet the Orioles will attempt to obstacle begins, and you know, the purgatory of the All-Star break sure feels like less of an unknown after winning back-to-back games in Minnesota.
Such a notion is a subjective one, however. A 42-46 record with, realistically, seven other teams vying for two Wild Card slots, the Orioles current four-game hurdle in the play-in game feels more like a pole vault. Perhaps it’s a miracle that the 27-38 record the O’s have posted since the start of May hasn’t fully erased the premature postseason assurances that April presented. So far short in their signature power, maybe these Orioles have some magic we haven’t yet seen.
Someone with a hint of charm about him is Miguel Castro, a pitcher whose talent may have gotten lost in the shuffle of Dan Duquette’s perpetual acquisition of arms.
For those unaware, Castro was considered a generous secondary piece along with fellow right-handers Jeff Hoffman and Jesus Tinoco in the trade that sent Troy Tulowitzki to the Blue Jays.
Castro, who was striking out guys at a pretty solid rate for a 20-year old at Triple-A, spent some time with the Blue Jays (some as a closer) before he was traded to Colorado. After being DFA’d by the Rockies in early April, the long-armed, high-90’s righty with a solid slider wasn’t going to be left untouched. For Duquette, Castro was a no-brainer.
Surprisingly, his peripherals were actually better as a Rockie. In 14.1 innings, a FB/HR rate puffed up a 6.14 ERA (4.21 xFIP), where as an Oriole, his 5.52 xFIP has actually seen more fortune. Despite only a 13-percent strikeout rate, Castro’s managed to avoid the barrel on more than enough bats, while limiting the now less frequent surrendering of home runs.
If you can somehow block out a few numbers typical of worsening results, there have been positives. In his own way, it looks like Castro is maturing into little more of a pitcher than a thrower.
Miguel Castro 2016-17
The first new bit of evidence that adds a bit more intrigue to Castro’s large potential is his improvement with strikes.
Granted, Castro may not be finding the plate in a more demonstrative way, but the addition of a lot more first-pitch strikes does wonders for a guy with limited, but improved fastball command. By starting 0-1, Castro’s live arm is allowed a bit more freedom in terms of mixing up a three-pitch arsenal, as we see with heightened chase and whiff rates. By getting ahead early in counts, Castro’s given us a chance to see some really nasty stuff.
While this may not be the best example, this running fastball against Jose Iglesias was the first time Castro’s stuff really put Birdland on alert. Castro’s fastball carries so much arm-side movement that Iglesias, who first sees an 0-2 mistake, gets handcuffed into a desperation contact swing. That’s a scary pitch that’s yet to be figured out.
Though Castro’s seen his fastball command become a burden at times, this is the kind of pitch that can lead to a .240 overall BABIP. Naturally, Castro’s .260 BABIP against fastballs has lowered from a .269 mark a season ago. Not a substantial change, but the number speaks volumes for a guy who, at times, doesn’t know where the baseball is going.
First-pitch strikes have also opened the door for Castro to utilize his slider in proper counts. Castro’s slider isn’t necessarily a signature pitch, but it is a reliable chase pitch when he can throw it off the plate.
As Tim Beckham found out, Castro’s lanky arms and aggressive delivery create a tight-spinning slider that is much less discernible from his fastball. What Castro lacks in overall tilt, he makes up for in deception, as shown by the many ugly swings that tend to follow.
Castro is far from a polished product, but where there has been progress, there has been progress in areas that suggest his stuff is trending side-by-side with more innings. His 3.31 ERA may not be justice for a massive 53-point difference in his ERA- and FIP-, but Castro’s stuff aligns with the prospect status he once hailed, and is showing signs of becoming crisper.
The Orioles bullpen, a unit with an unusually high 4.11 ERA, must reach the previous level of reliance it once had since the team returned to contention, and that means getting contributions in the smallest areas.
If Castro’s stuff continues to look the way it has, the Orioles will have added an arm capable of pitching anywhere in the 6th, 7th, maybe even occasional 8th inning. As he gets more reps and further masters his herky-jerky delivery, Castro should see less mistakes and fewer home runs, because that’s what his rawness leads us to believe.
In need of contributions from the entirety of the 25-man roster, the Orioles don’t have much room for error in any crevasse. Castro looks more like a plug and less like a hole, and to Duquette’s credit, he came at virtually no cost.
As much as he deserves to be held liable in some cases, sometimes Duquette get’s ‘em right.