Prospect Smackdown: Simon Castro vs. Casey Kelly
The two best pitching prospects in the San Diego Padres system are right-handers Simon Castro and Casey Kelly. Per reader request, here is a Prospect Smackdown comparing the two.
Background and Intangibles
Castro: Simon Castro was signed by the Padres as a free agent from the Dominican Republic in 2006. He was considered raw when signed, but the Padres liked his arm strength and projectability. After a pro poor debut in the Arizona Rookie League in '07, he was one of the better pitchers in the Northwest League in 2008, then broke out with a strong campaign in the Midwest League in '09. He jumped to the Texas League in 2010, continuing to pitch well and finishing the season with two starts in Triple-A. Although on the 40-man roster, he's expected to return to Triple-A for 2011 with a chance for a second-half promotion to the majors. Although scouting reports focus on his stuff, Castro is said to have good makeup.
Kelly: Casey Kelly was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the first round in 2008, out of high school in Sarasota, Florida. A two-way player, it cost $3 million to sign him, and the Red Sox let him play shortstop (his preferred position) in 2009, splitting the season between mound work and the infield. He showed a good glove but couldn't hit, so he moved back to the mound full-time last year. Sent to Double-A at age 20, he did not pitch well on a statistical basis, but scouts remained impressed with his talent. He comes from a baseball family (his father Pat played in the majors) and shows good makeup and mound presence. He was traded to the Padres in the Adrian Gonzalez deal. He is expected to begin 2011 in Double-A, with Triple-A possible later in the year.
Advantage: Kelly had a higher-profile as an amateur. Both of them have shown good "intangibles," though most scouts would probably rank Kelly just a bit higher. That doesn't mean there is anything wrong with Castro, but it shows how well-regarded Kelly is.
Physicality, Health, and Tools
Castro: Castro is a 6-5, 210 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born April 9, 1988. His key pitch is a 90-93 MPH fastball that tops out at 96, with movement. His slider gave trouble early in his career but is a much better pitch now. It can still be inconsistent but is a plus pitch when it's working. His changeup is gradually improving but still needs some polish. Castro shows good control for a young power pitcher, though his command within the strike zone isn't always terrific. His stuff is good enough that this hasn't been a problem the last two seasons. A good athlete, his mechanics are somewhat unconventional with a long arm stroke and some whippy action, but it adds deception. So far he has had no major health concerns, although some scouts worry that his delivery strains the shoulder.
Kelly: Kelly is a 6-3, 210 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born October 4th, 1989. He can hit 95-96 on his best days, but works more commonly in the 88-93 range. Although he throws strikes with it, his command within the strike zone still needs polish, making the fastball more hittable than it should be. His changeup is very good and should get better. His main breaking ball is an erratic curve, which ranges from a plus pitch to a below average pitch, depending on what day you see him. He is an excellent athlete, as befits a former shortstop. He repeats his delivery well and it is relatively smooth although not completely textbook. So far he's had no major league concerns, although his regular season ended early due to a strained lateral muscle.
Advantage: Castro has a better fastball and a more consistent breaking ball. Kelly has a better changeup. Both have solid control, though Castro's is better statistically at this point, and both still have occasional troubles with location. Castro is a good athlete but Kelly is an excellent one. Both of them have good health records. Kelly's mechanics are more conventional. Very tough call here. I think Castro has a slightly better arm in terms of pure strength and more consistent velocity, though Kelly is hardly a slouch. This really looks "even but different" to me, if that makes any sense.
Castro: Castro went 7-6, 2.92 with a 107/36 K/BB in 130 innings last year for Double-A San Antonio, with 107 hits allowed and a 3.32 FIP, 1.13 GO/AO. He made two Triple-A starts, giving up 16 hits in 10 innings with a 6/6 K/BB.
Kelly: Kelly went 3-5, 5.31 with a 81/35 K/BB in 95 innings for Double-A Portland, with 118 hits allowed and a 4.03 FIP. He posted a 1.30 GO/AO. Note that his FIP was much better than his ERA, but still, it wasn't a great year.
Advantage: Although we can cut Kelly some slack due to his age and relative lack of experience, Castro is a more consistently effective performer right now.
Castro: Although there has been talk of Castro becoming a reliever in the past, he made enough progress last year to project as a number three starter, possibly a number two if he maximizes the changeup and develops even sharper command.
Kelly: Kelly looks like a strike-throwing number three type to me, although many scouts believe that if the curveball gets more consistent, he can be a number two.
Advantage: They could take different paths to get there, but both of them could be/should be number three starters and perhaps number twos if all goes well. I don't think either of them projects as a classic ace rotation anchor, but they don't have to be that to be valuable.
I give Kelly the edge on background/intangibles, "different but even" on physicality, Castro an edge in current performance, and "different but even" in projection. Both got Grade B ratings from me in the 2011 Baseball Prospect Book. A lot of scouts would put Kelly ahead because he's a better athlete, but I rated Castro at 35 and Kelly at 40 on my Top 50 pitchers list, giving Castro the slight edge because he is closer to the majors.