Ryan Castellani Hopes To Rejuvenate His Progression
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — After an injury-marred first season, Rockies’ 23-year-old righthander Ryan Castellani is providing hope in his second Arizona Fall League stint.
The 6-foot-4, 223-pound Castellani is showing command of his pitches, and he’s getting results. Castellani followed up two scoreless innings with three strikeouts in his first appearance on Sept. 19 with a four-inning, four-strikeout outing on Oct. 1.
"He’s healthy, and it’s the best he’s felt in quite a while,” Rockies minor league pitching coordinator Darryl Scott said after Castellani’s first start. "He came off and he goes, ‘Wow, it’s nice that there’s nothing in my elbow.’
"I’m very happy with the progress that he’s made since the surgery and he looks good," Scott added. "He’s one of our top young pitchers, and he’s still a young pitcher. This is a good opportunity for him to recoup the innings and get back in position so he’s ready to go for next year.”
Castellani has made three starts for the Salt River Rafters, but his second appearance of 2.1 innings was called due to lightning before becoming official, nixing the outing from the stats. Castellani said getting on the mound in the third inning is "what matters” from that outing, helping keep him on track.
The Rockies selected Castellani 48th overall in the second round of the 2014 draft, convincing the Brophy Prep (Phoenix) graduate to forego his college commitment at Arizona State with a $1.1 million signing bonus. After a limited workload in his first two years of pro ball, Castellani broke out with a strong 2016 season at high Class A Modesto, where he ranked as the California League's top prospect.
Despite that early success, Castellani struggled at Double-A Hartford in 2017 and the Rockies had him repeat the level in 2018 with similar results. An adjusted arm slot helped him find his groove again in the Arizona Fall League last year, finishing the AFL with three, one-run, five-inning outings in his last four appearances. Castellani said he was pleased with his "progression” heading into 2019, and so were the Rockies, who elected to place him on the 40-man roster instead of leaving him unprotected for the Rule 5 draft.
He started the year strong at Triple-A Albuquerque, with just six runs allowed and 23 strikeouts in 19.2 innings through his first four starts of the year. But he felt some pain in his right elbow in his final start of April, when he gave up nine runs in four innings, saying the pain came from "out of nowhere.”
"I never noticed anything, (had) never been hurt. And then it was just like, ‘Oh, this is kind of throbbing,’” Castellani said. "And then I woke up, it was fully swollen and I couldn’t move it.”
The diagnosis: loose bone fragments. He got a cortisone shot and returned three weeks later, making five starts from late May to mid-June, but the issue persisted, especially at the point of extension.
"It took longer to recover. It was just kind of stiff,” Castellani said. "There was a lot of clicking because that loose bone fragment was just floating around and messing some things up. It needed to go.”
After surgery, Castellani expressed relief over the relative simplicity of both the procedure and the rehabilitation, stating multiple times that he has been "full-go” all fall.
"I don’t want to downplay any surgery, but it wasn’t the most terrifying thing. It wasn’t the most time-consuming, either,” Castellani said. "It was just a full month off from throwing, and [then I] got back into everything that I needed and was able to build strength. I was really just able to do everything, which was awesome.”
On the mound, Castellani’s two-seam and four-seam fastballs both sit between 91 and 94 mph. His changeup has been between 85-87 mph in the AFL, a difference in speeds he thought was good. But the biggest change— and so far, his best pitch—has been his curveball, which functions like a slurve, the result of combining two offspeed pitches into one.
"In the past, it was slider and curveball. Now, I’m just throwing one breaking ball right in the middle,” Castellani said. "It’s got the vertical and the horizontal, and it’s right around 82, 81 (mph). I’m happy with that, so just sticking with that one and then that changeup.”
Scott said he was "really happy” with Castellani’s stuff on Sept. 19, adding, "I thought the fastball was really good, I thought the curveball looked good, the changeup, he’s starting to get the feel back for that. But really, what I really liked was in the 'pen, I could see the aggressiveness and the tempo, that he was into that game mode rather than the bullpen mode.”
Castellani took another step on Oct. 1. He struck out back-to-back batters with his curveball in the second inning, and three of his four strikeouts came on that pitch.
"Hitters tell me everything, and seeing their reactions on the ones that were even in their leverage counts, when I’m ahead in the count, just any count, it gives you confidence,” Castellani said. "I threw two curveballs that were ahead in the count and still over the plate. I’m just really happy with the progression of things.”
Castellani is expected to make another three or four starts in the Arizona Fall League and end around 30-35 innings, giving him a total in the mid- to high 70s for 2019. It’s why he’s so happy to get the chance to be back in the AFL for a second go-round.
"Ending the season at 40-something innings isn’t ideal for the next season. It can be a lingering effect,” Castellani said. "So just to be able to come here was just a really big help for me. I need it.”