On the same day that 22 year old Mat Latos threw his first CG shutout, a fellow 22 year old top pitching prospect named Simon Castro led the San Antonio Missions to only their third win in May (3-9 this month). This win has led many to look at the young Dominican phenom and liken him to last year’s top pitching prospect Mat Latos. These optimistic fans have even gone as far as saying that Castro should be on the same path to the majors as Latos. Let me make this clear, baring catastrophic injuries, and a drastic fall from contention we will not see Simon Castro don a San Diego Padres uniform in the next 3.5 months. These are different players, with a different front office, different prospects ahead of him, and most importantly a different year.
Lets just get the similarities out of the way. Both are 22 (Latos is 4 months older). Both were the #1 pitching prospect in the organization at the time. Both players skipped Lake Elsinore after obliterating Fort Wayne. Both players led the Mission’s rotation despite being the youngest member. Finally both players have #1 potential.
The single biggest factors that surround a top prospects promotion are how well the team is doing, relative strength at the position, and of course money. Last year the Padres were out of contention by the all star break and had already used 10 starters. Of those 10 starters only Peavy (traded), and Stauffer (1 start prior to ASG), had an ERA below 4. In fact the next lowest was Correia at 4.50 and Gaudin (traded) at 5.03. Needless to say the Padres were in desperate need of a starter. In addition the Padres also had flexibility in the 40 man as players like Geer, Silva, Hill, Floyd, etc… could all be DFA or placed on the 60 day DL without much of a concern. They had given other pitchers like Leblanc Geer, and Banks a shot but none were remotely effective.
Enter Mat Latos who after 4 G in Fort Wayne (25.1 IP, 10 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 27 K) was promoted to AA where he was equally as impressive (5-1, 1.91 ERA, 47 IP, 32 H, 9 BB, 46 K). So we have a team out of contention, with a desperate need for starters, other pitching prospects flailing, room on the 40 man, and Latos tearing up AA. Why not promote Latos at that time, especially since it was late enough into the season to not have to worry about Super 2 status.
This year is a different story. The team is currently in first place with the best record in the NL. In addition they are first in the NL in ERA (2.61), 2nd in BAA (.220), 2nd in OPS (.627), 1st in WHIP (1.16), and 5th in QS (17). Every starter has an ERA below 4! Castro is the #1 Padre pitching prospect (#2 overall), and was voted by scout.com as the #12 pitching prospect in all of baseball, and is currently leading the Missions and if he continues on his pace will probably be deserving of a promotion come the all star break. However, while his stats might be deserving the Padres are in contention, have crazy rotation depth (provided Stauffer recovers from his appendicitis and Correia comes back as the same pitcher after the untimely death of his brother), and do not have the flexibility on the 40 man that they did last year. Even if the Padres do begin to falter the current Padre rotation of Garland (30), Coreia (29), Richard (27), LeBlanc (25), and Latos (22) is still extremely young. Also I would have to think that if Garland is traded or someone goes on the DL there is still CY (if he is ever healthy), Stauffer (extremely deserving), Ramos, and Liz who are all on the 40 man roster and will probably have a shot before Castro.
Finally some people have mentioned that if Castro did not follow in the footsteps of Latos, than maybe his path would look more like David Price who was a September call up and helped the Rays into the playoffs and eventually WS. While this scenario is more likely, meaning Castro getting a September call up, the Padres have even better bullpen depth. Russell faced 14 hitters during his last call up with the Padres and retired 13 of them (1 walk), and yet because of depth was sent back down to the minors. The Padres have shown that the big 3 (Bell, Adams, and Gregerson) are nearly unhitable, Stauffer and his 0.49 ERA as a reliever, throw in Russell, Webb, Thatcher, Mujica, and even Ramos and Gallagher and this is one of the best pens in baseball. This isnt even considering the Padres have both the closers at AA (Italiano) and AAA (Frieri) on the 40 man and both are doing extremely well in their perspective leagues. So making the big assumption that every thing stays the way it is come September, tell me what is the point of calling up Castro if there is no place to play him? The Padres wouldnt call him up just to cross their fingers that we play another 22 inning game against the Rockies…
Despite Castro not being Latos or even David Price (talk about setting the bar low), Castro will be in San Diego soon enough. While it would have probably happened anyway, Castro will with 100% certainty be placed on the 40 man roster by November as he would be Rule V eligible. Now whether he starts 2011 in the Padres rotation remains to be seen. No matter the outcome the future looks extremely bright for this potential number starter, and while the temptation might be there, there is no need to rush.