Colorado Rockies prospect Ryan Castellani is easy to overlook. He does not have a defining pitch. He appears smaller than his listed 6’3" 193 pound frame. And his career 4.14 minor league ERA does not jump off the page. But in my viewing last week, Castellani demonstrated that his whole game may be greater than the sum of its parts. Before writing off Castellani, let’s take a deeper look into his profile and project what may lie in store for the young right hander.
The Rockies drafted Ryan Castellani in the second round of the 2014 draft out of high school and immediately assigned him to short-season Tri-City. Castellani, 18 at the time and 3.4 years younger than the league average ballplayer, held his own in his inaugural pro season. He posted a 3.65 ERA, 1.189 WHIP, and walked just nine in 37 innings pitched. He has continued producing solid numbers against older hitters since his pro debut. In 2015, he improved his strikeout rate (from 6.1 to 7.5) as a 19-year-old in full season ball and maintained a respectable 4.45 ERA.
He has been even better this year on the mound for High-A Modesto. He has K’ed 8.3 batters per nine in 2016 and currently owns a 3.93 ERA, exceptional for a player 3.1 years younger than average in an extremely hitter-friendly league. Castellani has held opposing batters to 0.5 home runs per nine in his career, and has kept that figure at 0.6 in the California league. Castellani’s modest success, combined with his youth, portends well for his big league future.
Castellani’s delivery is repeatable and low-effort. The righty begins on the first base side of the mound with both toes facing the batter. He then shifts his feet so they point towards third base and brings his glove above his head in a Roy Halladay-like fashion. This part of the motion gives Castellani momentum, rhythm, and balance. Castellani will then bring his glove down towards his chest, while simultaneously lifting his left leg to form a 90 degree angle. The Arizonan proceeds to move his raised left leg inward and pause. Then, he dramatically increases the force of his motion, extending his left leg, turning his hips, and delivering the pitch at full speed.
The Rockies prospect fires at a 3/4 arm slot. He performs his motion in an extremely calm, almost laid-back manner. But once he reaches the point of delivery, Castellani amps up the energy level, while still remaining in complete control. This allows Castellani to use his entire body to increase the velocity of the pitch, rather than rely upon his arm. The motion’s consistency and repeatability should allow the youngster to remain a starter for as long as possible. His delivery also contains good deception. He hides the ball from the hitter until the last possible moment and seems to short-arm the ball a bit in order to minimize pitch recognition.
Last year, reports stated that Castellani’s fastball was in the 94 to 96 mph range. In my viewing, though, Castellani’s heater sat between 88 to 92 mph. The pitch was not overpowering. Nor did it have much movement. Rather, it was effective because Castellani knew when and where to throw the fastball. Castellani’s deceptive delivery allowed the pitch to appear faster than it actually was. Further, he was able to dot both the inside and outside corner of the strike zone and use the pitch to change hitters’ eye levels. Due to the diminished velocity, Castellani’s fastball currently has only average potential. It could be a real weapon, though, if it regains some of its past speed.
FV Fastball Grade: 40/55
Like many young pitchers, Castellani slows down his body in order to throw his change-up. When throwing the change, Ryan completes his motion as usual, but never accelerates when nearing delivery as he does when throwing the fastball. Castellani does maintains constant arm speed regardless of pitch selection, so this issue seems very fixable. On its own, the pitch is actually pretty good. It sinks before it reaches home plate and was about 5-10 mph slower than the fastball. Castellani used the change against San Jose to keep hitters off-balance when he was ahead in counts. He did not seem as confident in this pitch as he was in his fastball or slider. I think this pitch can be average at maturity.
FV Changeup Grade: 35/50
Castellani’s slider is his best pitch. His 3/4 arm slot enables him to get consistent break on the offering and he was confident enough to throw the slider for a strike in any count. He started off the leadoff hitter, in his second at-bat, for example, with a slider that was taken for a strike. The pitch sits between 79-83 mph. He seemed to get a better feel for it as the game went along. This pitch could be above-average with development.
FV Slider Grade: 45/55
While watching Castellani in the media box in San Jose (the SJ Giants were playing the Modesto Nuts that afternoon), I had the pleasure of sitting next to Rockies’ Developmental Supervisor and former big leaguer, Anthony Sanders. Sanders really liked Castellani.
"He’s young. He’s mature. He’s good. And he will be pitching in the big league if he doesn’t get hurt."
I’m inclined to agree with Sanders. Castellani’s fastball-slider combo should find him a home in a major league bullpen. But if he wants to start, he must develop his change-up into an average offering. I believe that Castellani can be a starter. He knows how to pitch and he will use all components of his arsenal to their maximum potential. His change-up, further, looks like it can be a solid offering if he can maintain his body’s speed. His fastball is good and can get better if he gains strength. That should be possible, as he could probably add 20-30 pounds to his 6'3" 193 lb frame. One thing is for certain: at 20, Castellani has plenty of time to get better and stronger. I think his ceiling is comparable to a pre-2013 Jeremy Hellickson: a guy who dominates not on stuff, but poise and smarts. His floor is a middle innings reliever, should his fastball remain stagnant and his change-up not develop. It will be exciting to see how Castellani performs down the stretch of this season. My guess is that he will sneak into most Rockies’ top ten prospect lists this winter.
Ceiling: Number three starter
Floor: Middle innings reliever