The Education of Miguel Castro

by Douglas Fox | Posted on Friday, April 24th, 2015
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Toronto Blue Jays closer Miguel Castro has seemingly come out of nowhere to finish games for the team in this young MLB season.

For those who follow prospects closely, Castro has been on the radar since he made his stateside debut less than two years ago, but even his biggest boosters were surprised at his rapid ascension to the Major Leagues this spring. Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos had mused in the off-season about Castro seeing some time in the Toronto bullpen this season, but few expected he would break camp with the team.  Castro was dominant in the first few weeks of spring training, but the thought was that as MLB hitters got their timing down, he would start getting hit hard.  But like fellow rookie Roberto Osuna, Castro continued to get hitters out as March turned into April, and the pair made it impossible for the team to send them to the minors.  

When Blue Jays closer Brett Cecil off to a slow start because of missing time in spring training due to a sore shoulder, Manager John Gibbons had little choice but to insert Castro into that role.  Since that time, he’s picked up 4 saves in 5 opportunities, and has solidified the back end of the Toronto bullpen.

The knock against Castro prior to this season was his lack of secondary pitches, although his 98+ fastball was more than enough to dominate minor league hitters at the A ball level.  His changeup didn’t always have much deception, and his curve could become kind of slurvy, not offering enough velocity separation or movement to become an effective pitch. Both his change and slider have advanced enough to become decent variations from his fastball this spring, though.

Last night against the Orioles, Castro likely learned a valuable lesson.  Brought into close out the game against the Orioles after Liam Hendriks had given up three straight hits to start the 9th, Castro was given the task of preserving the lead, and getting the final two outs to sweep a division rival.  Here’s the sequence of pitches Castro threw to the first hitter he faced, Manny Machado:

              Speed                              Pitch                                                                           Result
1             96                               Fastball (Four-seam)                                         Called Strike
2             96                              Fastball (Four-seam)                                                   Foul
3             83                                  Slider                                                                           Foul
4             82                                  Slider                                                                           Ball
5             80                                  Slider                                                                           Ball
6             96                                Fastball (Four-seam)                                        In play, run(s)

Castro was being used by Gibbons for the second time in as many days.  He had done so earlier in the month against the Yankees, but having pitched an inning and a third the night before, Castro’s velocity was down a tick:

Brooksbaseball-Chart (1)

 

Nonetheless, Castro was able to get ahead of Machado 0-2 using his fastball.  He tried to use his slider as a put-away pitch, but Machado fouled one off, and Castro missed with the other two.  With two runners on and facing a full count, Castro came in with his fastball, and caught too much of the plate:

From the video, it’s obvious that Castro missed his spot.  Catcher Russell Martin set up on the outer half of the plate, but the ball tailed back over the inner half, into Machado’s wheelhouse.  Castro likely knowing he was tired, maxed his effort in an attempt to try to strike out Machado, which probably had the unintended effect of creating more movement on the ball.  Had he hit Martins’s target, there is a higher probability that he would have induced some groundball contact, like he did the night before:

Castro regrouped and got the final two outs after Machado’s homer narrowed the Blue Jays lead over the O’s to one run.

What’s surprising is that Castro didn’t use his changeup once in this outing.  He was using it more often earlier this month, but has gotten away from it, even though he’s thrown it for strikes only slightly less often than his slider – 27% vs 36%), and has had more swing and misses (27% vs 4%) with it:

Brooksbaseball-Chart (2)

 

What did Castro learn from this?  Hopefully, this experience taught him that unlike in the low minors, when he could blow hitters away almost at will, major league hitters can time his fastball, especially in hitters’ counts, and if he overthrows and misses his spot, he could pay for it.  In last night’s situation,  even if he had just missed Martin’s target (one of the game’s best pitch framers last year, Martin has struggled in that area so far this year), the bases would have been loaded, but the opportunity for a force out or double play was still there. So, the lesson learned should be: trust your catcher, and focus on his location.

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Douglas Fox
About the Author

Doug Fox has played, watched, studied, and generally obsessed about baseball for decades, and once played in the Toronto Star Pee-Wee Baseball tournament. He writes about Blue Jays prospects and minor league baseball at clutchlings.blogspot.ca Follow him on Twitter @Clutchlings77.







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