When the Angels pulled the trigger on a deadline deal that sent Joe Smith to the Cubs, it ended a career with the Angels and also effectively began a new one. Jesus Castillo was the prospect that intrigued the Angels the most among the many trade offers, and thus led to the one-for-one swap. But who is Jesus Castillo and where does he rank (roughly) among Angels prospects currently?
Castillo at age 16 was once one of the top international prospects on the planet four years ago. Born in Venezuela and raised in both Venezuela and Spain (a bit of a rarity I’ve discovered), Castillo came prepackaged with all sorts of upside. At 6’0 and a buck-fifty soaking wet, Castillo displayed flawless mechanics with a loose arm slot and three projectable pitches. His fastball may have only been in the mid-80’s, but it seemed to jump out of his hand and onto hitters harder than your average mid-80’s fastball. He was able to effectively deploy his slider for a strike, though it’s speed and break varied. He also had what was described as a “floating” change up. While this description carried a positive connotation I can’t help but think of an old Bugs Bunny cartoon when I hear “floating change up”.
While opinions varied, some scouts were so bullish on Jesus to believe that he could grow a few inches and add 30+ pounds while also pumping his fastball into the mid-90’s someday. The D-Backs ended up shelling out the most money for Castillo and thus began his professional career. I’m sure Arizona envisioned Castillo maturing into a potential frontline starter and leading their staff, but that dream was cut short when they traded him to the Chicago Cubs for Tony Campana.
While with the Cubs, Castillo had an up and down career. He never quite posted the numbers to match his ever progressing arsenal, and thus the shine on this prospect began to fade. Still, upside was present. Castillo grew two inches, packed on 15 lbs, and added several ticks onto his fastball.
At age 20, Castillo sits at 6’2 165 lbs with a 92-93 mph fastball, same slider as before and a change up he’s learned to use in order to generate groundball outs. In seven starts this season in A Ball, Castillo has a 3.27 ERA across 33 innings with 38 strikeouts and and an acceptable 3.0 walks per nine innings. That loose arms slot and exploding fastball? Still there, but improved. Those impeccable mechanics and projection? Still there.
In essence, what the Angels have here is a lottery ticket. It’s still possible Castillo’s fastball could climb into the mid-90’s. He’ll almost assuredly put on more weight as most 20 year olds do. His mechanics are so clean that it’s hard to envision Jesus being moved into the bullpen. If his arm can remain fresh, Castillo has a reasonable shot at starting next season at Inland Empire or even AA Arkansas as a 21 year old.
Update, 8/31/16: Castillo has a 3-1 record and a 2.52 ERA in five starts for the Low-A Burlington Bees.