DENVER -- Right-handed pitching prospect Ryan Castellani could work his way into the Rockies' pitching plans this year, just three years after the team drafted him out of Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix. It's good that during his senior year, Castellani's mother allowed him to further his baseball education in
DENVER -- Right-handed pitching prospect Ryan Castellani could work his way into the Rockies' pitching plans this year, just three years after the team drafted him out of Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix. It's good that during his senior year, Castellani's mother allowed him to further his baseball education in a most non-traditional way.
A couple of years before, Castellani's pitching tutor, Chris Sinacori, began making little adjustments in his delivery, such as raising his arms above his head at the start of the windup -- like big league star Max Scherzer. It wasn't until later that Castellani found out Sinacori had trained Scherzer. So Regina Castellani figured her son should see his pitching role model up close.
"I was surprised my mom let me do this, but she let me skip the first couple classes of school and I went to watch a bullpen of his," said Castellani, rated by MLB Pipeline as the Rockies' No. 6 prospect. "He's definitely a freak of nature, but we have our similarities."
Castellani turns 22 on April 1, but last season the Rockies invited him to Major League camp and had him pitch the entire season at Double-A Hartford. Those factors have made him part of the Rockies' 2018 depth picture, which means his work bears a close eye when Spring Training opens with the first workout of pitchers and catchers Wednesday at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, Ariz.
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The Rockies needed just eight starters while going 87-75 and earning the second National League Wild Card last year, and all but Tyler Chatwood (who signed with the Cubs) return. However, it's rare that the Rockies or any team can make it through a season without the starter total reaching double figures. That's where the depth comes in.
The 40-man Major League roster includes right-handers Yency Almonte and Zach Jemiola and lefty Sam Howard -- all of whom pitched at Triple-A Albuquerque. Additionally, lefty Harrison Musgrave, who nearly cracked the Opening Day rotation and suffered a season-ending finger injury early last season at Albuquerque, is back as a non-roster invitee.
But Castellani is in the picture, thanks to his accelerated pace.
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Last year was a whirlwind. Castellani went from having birthday parties at Salt River Fields and watching games from the stands to actually working alongside Major Leaguers last year. He saw action in just two games and gave up four runs in three innings. In one of his Cactus League games, he yielded homers to Brewers Jesus Aguilar and Nick Noonan, each of whom have seen Major League time.
The learning continued at Hartford, where Castellani went 9-12 with a 4.81 ERA in 27 starts.
"Last year, at one point we had the youngest position player and the youngest pitcher in the Eastern League -- in [shortstop] Brendan Rodgers and Castellani," Rockies senior player development director Zach Wilson said. "He is still growing. He got some great experience last year. There were some long spurts of a lot of success, and then he had some spurts of challenges. Both those things are going to prepare him as he goes into this year."
In May and June, Castellani won four straight starts, and went eight innings the latter two, while posting a 2.67 ERA with 20 strikeouts to five walks. In his final five starts, he posted a 2.32 ERA with 26 strikeouts against nine walks. And he sparked Scherzer comparisons, with a fastball that sits 90-94 mph but can touch 96, a sweeping slider and a solid changeup.
"There are times where he can absolutely go out and dominate a game, and he looks like Scherzer -- there are similarities in his delivery and his arm slot, and the stuff," Wilson said. "Max has got a little more to his fastball. Listen, I'm talking about a true ace when I'm talking about Scherzer. Whether Castellani becomes that remains to be seen. He has the potential to do that, without question."
Castellani said he was able to throw some bullpen sessions with Scherzer before Scherzer moved from the Scottsdale area. Also, during last season, Castellani saw the big leagues up close, just to see how close he was.
"Rafael Devers was with the Red Sox, and I'd played against him in low-A and pitched against him plenty of times early in the season," Castellani said. "I went to a Yankees-Red Sox game and he was there in the lineup and hit a home run off Albertin Chapman in the 12th inning.
"It shows you how close you are. 'OK, I know how to pitch to him, got him out, didn't get him out.' You learn a lot, then you see them in the big leagues and say, 'OK, I know what to do.'"
Castellani and the pitching hopefuls are but a few of the attractions of Spring Training. Other situations to watch are:
First base and corner outfield: As the roster stands, Ian Desmond can be the right-handed bat at first base -- which would take some pressure off Rockies No. 3 and overall No. 41 prospectRyan McMahon, a left-handed hitter who can force his way into the lineup with a strong spring. Desmond also could swing to left field, with Charlie Blackmon in center and Gerardo Parra in right. Left-handed hitters David Dahl, Raimel Tapia and Mike Tauchman also are pushing for regular duty.
Catching competition: Veteran Chris Iannetta was signed as the No. 1 catcher, which leaves left-handed-hitting Tony Wolters -- who has spent most of the last two seasons in the Majors and started much of last year -- and right-handed-hitting Tom Murphy, who competed for No. 1 duties last year before suffering a wrist and forearm injury last spring. Wolters gives manager Bud Black a desirable right-left offensive combo. When healthy, Murphy provides top-end power.
Middle infield backup: A key concern is if shortstop Trevor Story is injured. The Rockies can go to Pat Valaika, a weapon as a pinch-hitter. Valaika played short in college, but has become more of a multi-position player. Desmond has long experience at the position, but the Rockies see him as a first baseman or corner outfielder, depending on what the lineup needs.
Non-roster Rockies Daniel Castro and Shawn O'Malley have Major League experience. It'll be interesting to see how close Rodgers -- the team's No. 1 prospect and No. 15 in the Minors according to MLB Pipeline -- is to being ready.
Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page.