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A’s sign Ryan Castellani to minor league contract

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Rotation depth!

San Francisco Giants v Colorado Rockies - Game Two Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The MLB offseason is on hold while the league is in lockout, leaving us without any major transactions for the past five weeks and counting. While we wait, let’s keep an eye on minor league moves.

The Oakland A’s signed pitcher Ryan Castellani to a minor league contract in November, reported Chris Hilburn-Trenkle of Baseball America. This news is from before the lockout began, though the work stoppage wouldn’t have prevented it from happening since it’s a non-roster deal.

The right-handed Castellani spent his entire career until now in the Rockies organization, working almost exclusively as a starter. He appeared in the majors each of the past two summers, making 10 starts and one relief appearance.

Colorado drafted Castellani out of high school in the 2nd round in 2014, and he rose steadily up the ladder to Double-A by age 21. He made his MLB debut in August 2020 and stayed in the rotation for the rest of that season, but only returned to the bigs for one start in 2021.

  • Castellani, MLB: 5.79 ERA, 46⅔ ip, 27 Ks, 30 BB, 13 HR, 7.97 FIP, .420 xwOBA

Those are atrocious numbers across the board, but they come with two enormous asterisks. One is the Coors Field effect, as he had to contend with one of the toughest pitching environments in the sport. The other is his youth, as he won’t turn 26 until April. Between those two factors, it’s fair to wonder what he might be able to do with a change of scenery and another year of experience under his belt.

Of course, if he ends up in Triple-A with the A’s then it’ll be in Las Vegas, which is no kinder than Colorado or anywhere else. His previous Triple-A time came in Albuquerque, another extreme hitter’s park at high elevation, so it’s been a while since he’s operated in anything resembling a neutral home setting. For a bigger picture of his body of work, here are his stats from Double-A (2017-18, ages 21-22) and Triple-A (2019-21, ages 23-25).

  • Castellani, AA: 5.12 ERA, 291⅔ ip, 223 Ks, 117 BB, 31 HR, 4.56 FIP
  • Castellani, AAA: 6.90 ERA, 138⅓, 133 Ks, 101 BB, 30 HR, 7.32 FIP

In terms of stuff, his 2020 stint featured a four-pitch mix, led by a four-seam fastball that averaged 92.5 mph and topped out around 96. His secondaries, each used in equal measure, included a slider, changeup, and curveball. For what it’s worth, in his lone outing last year his velocity was down (89.8 avg, 91.4 top), and he began to incorporate a sinker.

It remains to be seen what the A’s rotation will look like in 2022, with several longtime starters potentially on the trading block, but there figures to be lots of opportunity for anybody who can seize it. The bullpen is also in need of a revamp, with several relievers gone to free agency.

Analysis

This is the time of year when teams load up on depth, and Castellani is as interesting of a lotto ticket as any. He’s a starter, he has some MLB experience, he’s still young, and perhaps he could find more success in the Coliseum than at Coors. It doesn’t cost anything to take a free spin, and maybe you discover another serviceable arm for the depth chart.

It’s not entirely clear what type of pitcher he actually is. His low strikeout rates make you think of modest velocity and pitching to contact, but he showed some heat in 2020, and he racked up some Ks in Triple-A. Will he miss some bats, or rely more on inducing weak contact?

His pro journey resembles that of Paul Blackburn. They were both high school draft picks, chosen 48th overall and 56th overall respectively, they debuted in the majors relatively young, and they’ve done enough to keep earning chances despite early struggles. The comp doesn’t really extend to their arsenals or stats, other than their low strikeout rates, but consider it a fun fact.

Maybe Castellani spends the year eating innings in Triple-A. Maybe he makes a few spot starts in Oakland. Maybe he finds his groove in a new organization, or unlocks some upside at age 26 and at sea level, and becomes the latest breakout contributor. Stay tuned to find out! Teams need pitching depth, especially starters, and now the A’s have another arm to choose from.