From rushed to discarded to valued, Miguel Castro now a top pitching asset for Orioles

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Miguel Castro, a self-described observer, watches every move fellow Dominican right-hander Ubaldo Jiménez makes, soaking in his routine and trying to create a career that long and prosperous for himself.

Part of what he shares with Jiménez, consciously or not, seems to be a narrow focus on the future and what lies ahead. Except for what he has learned from it, why would Castro want to spend too much time reliving the glory of making his major league debut at age 20 only two years later to end up in a waiver trade to his third team, the Orioles, and sent to their spring training complex?

"Did I talk to him about it? No, not really," Jiménez said. "I bet he doesn't want to even remember all those things that he went through. So we don't even talk about that. If you look at it in a good way, he's going to take that as a wake-up call and he's going to use it to his advantage. He knows how difficult it is to be a major league baseball player, even when he has that kind of talent. He throws 100 miles per hour with sink, a slider, a changeup. And even with all that, he had to go through that."

"Those experiences are reminders, but at the same time, I'm trying to live in the present and the opportunity that's right now, that's presenting itself, and trying to take advantage," Castro said, via team interpreter Ramón Alarcón. "Trying to give it everything I have and the opportunity that I've been given. That's what I've been working on."

In a season that’s been disappointing on many fronts for the Orioles, the way Castro — a lean, 6-foot-7 project at the time of his trade from the Colorado Rockies on April 7 — has pushed his way onto the major league roster and made himself an undeniable part of the club's future, is one that every level of the organization can take pride in.

Castro's 2.74 ERA and 1.022 WHIP in 46 relief innings this season entering Saturday, and the corresponding responsibility the team sees from him away from the mound, have gone a long way to helping the Orioles believe the 22-year-old is not the player whose career and reputation seemed tattered this spring. There's plenty of credit to go around for that.

"From the beginning, when you see an arm like that and a body like that and that kind of athleticism, you know you have a chance to mold something pretty good," Orioles director of player development Brian Graham said.

Castro's beginning, at least with the Orioles, was at their complex in Sarasota, Fla., where he was sent to begin the process of what the organization saw as, not a rebuild but a refining stage for him.

"It was basically to refine his delivery and get him on track both mentally and physically," Graham said. "He came to us with some major league experience, but he wasn't really consistent with anything he did. The key guy down there was [Florida and Latin American pitching coordinator] Dave Schmidt, who worked with his delivery and kind of developed his pitches — basically what he did was develop his pitches."

The major league experience the Orioles had to draw on was brief, and nothing like what they've come to see this season. In 2015 with the Toronto Blue Jays, Castro was a nonroster invitee to major league spring training after he began the 2014 season in short-season ball and ended it in the High-A Florida State League. Castro pitched himself onto the Blue Jays roster that spring and began the season as the closer, but was in the majors barely a month before he was sent back to the minors.

"At first, it was very tough," Castro said. "I felt a lot of pressure on myself, but I have to give credit to time. Time allowed me to learn from the veteran players, see what they were doing and see how they would do it. I picked it up from them. That's what has been working for me."

He didn't get back to the big leagues until that September, and that was with the Colorado Rockies after the Blue Jays shipped him west as part of the blockbuster trade for shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.

Castro posted a 6.14 ERA as an up-and-down bullpen piece with the Rockies in 2016, and was designated for assignment out of spring training, leading to his trade to the Orioles.

"The things that happened in the past just helped make me better — a better player and a better human being," Castro said. "I'm glad I was able to learn from those and have a refresher, mentally."

Given all Castro had been through, Graham said it wasn't a tough sell to get the right-hander to go to Florida instead of joining a high-minors affiliate immediately.

"Because it was a change of scenery for him and it was basically a new life, I think Castro was very receptive to the suggestions that Dave Schmidt made and some of the adjustments he made, in terms of adding the breaking ball, refining it and the delivery itself," Graham said. "Dave did a really nice job with the overall pitching transformation.”

"They sent me to Sarasota so I could start practicing again, get into game shape, get my body oriented and prepared for the season," Castro said. "I saw it as an opportunity. I was happy to be part of this team."

Castro credits Schmidt and special assignment pitching instructor Ramón Martinez with ironing out a delivery that had struggled to find consistency — "trying to be in the same position and stay on top of it," he said.

Before he joined Double-A Bowie in May, Castro spent a full month building himself back up in Sarasota. He pitched once in long relief there before a need arose on the big league team, and after two brief stints with the Orioles, has stuck in the majors since June 30.

"It's a great testament to having a program," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "I think he really knows that we have his best interest in mind. We've put him on a program. Everything we've told him is going to happen has happened. He's in a good place, I can tell; mentally, physically. A lot of people miss — you see this big strapping guy, you miss a lot of things about him. He's a sharp guy, he watches the game, he's very competitive, he ain't scared and he wants it. He's willing to do whatever it takes. He don't want to go back down, and he's willing to do whatever."

Jiménez sees the same mentality from Castro — and how much progress he's made since that ill-fated debut month in April 2015.

"He looks more mature. He challenges the hitters right now,” Jiménez said. “He's not scared to throw the ball inside or away. I remember I saw him when he was with Toronto, he was the closer for a little bit. I remember him at that time, but he's gotten way better than he was. He had the same talent, but now he knows. He understands what he has, and he knows how to use it."

Now, with just over a month remaining in the season, Showalter said the Orioles are looking at ways to extend Castro's season so he pitches as many innings as possible and is built up enough to be a candidate to start in 2018.

It's been a long time since Castro was a starter in Single-A in 2014, but all that transpired since made it so his arm is one of the most valuable assets the Orioles have.

"It's a really tough process to go from Single-A all the way to the big leagues, then finding your way back through the minors; it's got to be tough," Jiménez said. "But he's really tough. He knows how to use everything to his advantage right now.”

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