The San Diego Padres boast one of the deepest bullpens in baseball heading into 2021. There is one arm that is flying under the radar.
Jose Castillo was signed by the Tampa Bay Rays as a 16-year-old international free agent out of Venezuela in July of 2012. Just over two years later, at the ripe old age of 18, he was dealt to the San Diego Padres in an agreement that involved Trea Turner heading from the Padres to the Nationals and the Friars acquiring Wil Myers in a three-team, 11-player trade before the 2015 season.
He then toiled in the Padres’ system for the better part of three seasons, making stops in Tri-City, Fort Wayne, Lake Elsinore, San Antonio and El Paso before eventually getting his shot at The Show on June 2, 2018.
The Venezuelan lefty appeared in 37 games for the Friars in 2018, with a solid 3.29 ERA accompanied by an equally solid 118 ERA+.
He entered 2019 with lots of promise of being perhaps one of the best lefty arms out of San Diego’s bullpen. Instead, he suffered a left flexor strain in early March right as spring training began, dooming his season, appearing in just one game.
Once again, as the pandemic-delayed 2020 season finally began warming up, Castillo garnered high hopes. Unfortunately, he perhaps revved the engines too hot too soon and hurt himself again, straining the lat muscle on his throwing side and he never threw a pitch in the shortened season last year.
Now, yet again, Castillo enters camp with a hope to be healthy and the Friars’ brass, fellow players, coaches and fans are all waiting anxiously for his healthy return to the mound.
Why? Because when he’s healthy, the 25-year-old is pretty darn good.
Second-year skipper Jayce Tingler said it best in one of his first press conferences of the 2021 spring, “when he’s healthy…he’s got one of the best left-handed sliders in the game.”
Jayce Tingler was asked what Jose Castillo can bring to the Padres bullpen: pic.twitter.com/J4KDEUguQC
— 97.3 The Fan (@973TheFanSD) February 18, 2021
That’s pretty high praise given how many talented southpaws there are in today’s game. Who is the gold standard among lefty relievers? Aroldis Chapman.
In the last two seasons, Chapman’s devastating slider averages 2,416 rpm with a whiff rate of 39.1 percent. In 2018, when Castillo was at his healthiest, his slider had a better spin rate than the six-time all-star Chapman’s at 2,602 rpm with a 41.1 percent whiff rate.
His 2018 spin rate rivaled that of Josh Hader’s lefty slider from 2019 when he won his second Trevor Hoffman N.L. Reliever of the Year Award with 2,618 rpm.
That’s pretty elite company.
This is not to mention the number of problems Castillo gives the lefty bats he faces. Hitters from the left side bat a meager .130 against Castillo with zero extra-base hits in 52 plate appearances. Observe what his slider did to a possible future Hall of Famer in Joey Votto, one of the best lefty hitters of this generation.
Needless to say, if Castillo can finally put together a healthy season as he did in 2018, three years wiser and more experienced, he will be a dangerous weapon in that stacked Padres bullpen that already boasts three guys who have put together a 20-plus save season and another in Drew Pomeranz who is a former all-star and posted a 1.45 ERA in 20 games for San Diego last season.
On a Padres roster that looks to be the most talented and deep in franchise history, don’t sleep on Castillo becoming an asset for Tingler late in ballgames.