Scottsdale, Ariz. -- Watch starter Ryan Castellani (No. 19 PuRP) work for a few innings, and it becomes pretty evident he's not exactly like most other right-handed pitching prospects in the organization. As general manager Jeff Bridich loads up on Jon Gray, Jeff Hoffman, Eddie Butler, German Marquez, Mike Nikorak—hard-throwing, over the top power righties—Castellani stands out, as you can see by watching the video (above) of a few innings of his work during an intrasquad game.
That's not to say Castellani is a soft-tosser—far from it—but a three-quarters delivery with built-in deception to righties and a lot of arm-side run on his fastball certainly make Castellani a little unique among the classic "tall-and-fall" pitchers so plentiful in the organization. We've seen pitchers like this recently; Parker French is an interesting comp for Castellani and the two do a lot of similar things on the mound.
This approach has worked for the Arizona high school product, too; he'll turn 20 on Friday, and yet he's already knocking on the door at High-A Modesto in the California League. His sinking two-seam fastball, and how he uses it to set up his offspeed pitches, has been a big reason why.
"By my sophomore year of high school, that was the only fastball that I had, and I didn’t really even consider it a pitch," Castellani says of his two-seamer after the above outing on the Rockies' back fields in Scottsdale. "I would just throw it down the middle and it would run a lot. That’s always been my number one pitch, I’ve always had success with it by just throwing it over the plate and letting it move. It’s never felt like a pitch that I’ve got to aim somewhere to come over the plate. It’s just come natural."
"Then last year with [Mark Brewer, the Asheville Tourists' pitching coach], that was when I really got that extension-side four seam fastball," Castellani adds. "That’s the one that would stay on that side of the plate, and it wouldn’t go back over the middle, where before I would get in trouble trying to go away to right-handed hitters and it would come right back down the middle."
Last year with 'Brew,' as the players call him, was a formative time for Castellani. Statistically, he didn't stand out as much as teammates like Sam Howard, but the young righty took on Low-A as a teenager and acquitted himself very well in the first full season of his professional career in a hitter's environment, starting 27 games and logging promising walk (2.3 BB/9) and strikeout (7.5 K/9) rates.
Maybe more than anything, it's refreshing to see Castellani's low walk rates (a) considering the competition last summer was three years his senior, and (b) considering the natural movement on his fastball could theoretically get unpredictable during moments of struggle inevitable for any teenager. That never really happened to the tall righty, and now he's focused on improving the consistent of that movement to his arm side, too.
"That was the biggest thing last year," Castellani says of developing arm-side quality, especially for his off-speed pitches. "I would only throw changeups to lefties and sliders to righties, but realizing that a slider coming from the right side into a lefty can be a very beneficial and effective pitch, I’m more comfortable with that. Then, having that big two seam, one of the keys I’m really trying to work on right now is being able to throw that at [a lefty's] hip, and have it come back over the inside part of the plate, and not just have it run back to the middle sitting on a tee."
Speak to him for fifteen minutes and you quickly realize Castellani's baseball IQ is beyond his age. He seems to generally have a handle on the theories behind pitching, and specifically understands what it takes to make his own unique attributes successful. But, as he's quick to point out, he's not the only person in his development equation; just as Howard has done in conversations with Purple Row before, Castellani raves about his time with Brewer.
"He really knows how to explain things in a very clear way to help you understand what he’s trying to get across," Castellani gushes. "A lot of good metaphors and ways to help. Brew a really great guy. Very funny, easy to talk to, and he just knows so much about baseball."
"One of the biggest things Brewer would say is pick up home plate and move it," Castellani continues. "Going into a lefty I’d move home plate to the left, try to throw the ball down the middle to that home plate, and it would be where I want it. It’s simplifying my thinking, picking up a different visual target, and throwing a straight line to there. Brewer did a great job with that."
"Pitching can get very complicated," he muses. "But it gets very easy if you simplify things. It doesn’t need to be complicated."
That's quite the mature understanding for a man who turns 20 years old tomorrow.
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