14. Ryan Castellani (303 points, 22 ballots)
The first unanimous PuRP to be revealed so far is Ryan Castellani. This time marks his 12th straight PuRPs list since getting drafted in the second round of the 2014 draft and signing for $1.1 million. Despite this longevity, the righty starter is still only 23 (he’ll be 24 in April), just four months younger in fact than Brady Singer, the #18 overall pick in the 2018 draft. If he’d have gone the college route instead, Castellani might only now be emerging from Low A ball.
As it is, Castellani got his first taste of AAA in 2019 after spending two frustrating seasons in AA. The cause of these struggles, according to Tracy Ringolsby, is that Castellani tried to make his delivery more “mainstream” and in so doing lost some of the deception that made him successful. The Rockies used data and intensive instruction in the AFL after the 2018 season to show Castellani the adjustments he needed to make to find his original delivery. He showed enough there (when combined with his prior track record) to earn a 40-man roster slot and the AAA bump.
Unfortunately, Castellani didn’t get much of a chance to see how those changes played in the offense-crazy Pacific Coast League. He went on the IL for a few weeks in May, then in June he had surgery on his right elbow to remove “particulates” around that area. Castellani started off strong, as his ERA stood at 2.75 after four starts, but the start immediately preceding his first IL stint went poorly as did the five starts he made after he returned before going under the knife.
Castellani was limited to 10 starts and 43 1⁄3 innings with Albuquerque, during which time he posted a ghastly 8.31 ERA, 1.94 WHIP, and 6.2 BB/9 rate. At least Castellani struck out over a batter per inning (9.8 K/9) and his 6.26 xFIP indicated some bad luck with fly balls, but it wasn’t a successful campaign to be sure. The good news is that Castellani was able to play in the AFL for the second straight year after returning from surgery. He was much better there, making five appearances and throwing 16 2⁄3 innings with a 2.16 ERA and 10.8 K/9 rate.
Here’s some video of Castellani from the 2018 AFL courtesy of 2080 Baseball:
In the report accompanying the above video, Adam McInturff of 2080 Baseball provides insights on Castellani based on AFL viewings, including more granular grades on each of his offerings. It’s...not positive. Here was his conclusion for Castellani:
Physical frame and flashes of hard sinker/slider combo give raw ingredients of 7th inning setup reliever, but has a ways to go w/ control and overall pitchability to make an impact at ML level.
In a more recent evaluation, FanGraphs ranked Castellani 18th in the system as a 40 FV prospect:
It was yet another year of inconsistency and injury for Max Scherzer’s mechanical doppelgänger, Ryan Castellani, who was shelved for much of the summer due to a surgery that cleaned up bone chips in his elbow. Upon returning for the Fall League, Castellani was sitting 90-93 with his usual tailing action while flashing above-average secondary stuff. While he has the stuff to start, he seems much more likely to end up in the bullpen now that he’s on the 40-man, but can’t stay healthy or throw strikes. We expect a quick hook if that’s not remedied early next year.
MLB Pipeline slots him 15th in the org:
When healthy, Castellani still has the kind of stuff to fit well in a big league rotation. He’ll throw his fastball up to 97 mph with good life to it and backs it up with an above-average low-80s slider. His changeup is behind the other two, but he has more than enough feel for it to be a third Major League average offering. He’s proven to be an innings-eater, with his 134 1/3 IP in 2018 by far his low-water mark the last three seasons. Last year, he saw his walk rate spike and his strike out rate plummet and it’s mostly because he got out of whack with his delivery. Castellani got out of his natural, three-quarters slot and climbed higher and higher, sapping the right-hander of velocity and control.
Castellani had started to re-find that arm slot in the Arizona Fall League, where he threw well down the stretch, especially in three of his final four outings.
It’s tough to draw too many conclusions from an injury-marred 2019, especially given the uncertainty of what to do with the extreme stats produced by the PCL in 2019. Regardless, Castellani will certainly enter 2020 with something to prove as he tries to make his way onto the 2020 Rockies roster at some point. Based on the above reports, his role if he gets there is also in question given the struggles Castellani has had throwing strikes consistently. The elbow surgery is hardly a good sign either and introduces injury risk into what was already an arrow pointing down.
As is, I think Castellani will serve as the Jeff Hoffman Memorial emergency starter for Colorado in 2020 whether they like it or not, given his 40-man roster slot, but we’ll see if he can distinguish himself in that role. The 6’4” righty still boasts the mid-rotation stuff and Scherzer mechanics, and realistically the system is thin enough that a player with Castellani’s pedigree, stuff, and proximity needs to be in the top 20 of this list.
To me, he’s the 3rd or 4th best starting prospect in the system with rookie eligibility remaining (feel free to say “yikes”). I ranked Castellani 16th in the system with a FV 40 grade because a) he’s not as bad as 2019 made him look and b) I didn’t like anyone else much better in that tier. We’ll see if the mechanical adjustments stick when he comes back in 2020.