Will Diego Castillo Get A Shot In the Twins Bullpen?

Photo Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

As the 2024 season cruises past the quarter mark, things seem to be settling for the Minnesota Twins because they’re getting more respectable sample sizes from their given departments.

The offense has ranged from scalding-hot to ice-cold, with the total product being mostly solid, especially given the various injuries to star players. The starting rotation has mostly been a strength, much like last year. The bullpen picture is dominated by back-end options who have had strong showings when healthy and the low-leverage options who are starting to get exposed as the soft underbelly of an otherwise fairly strong ballclub through the first quarter.

So what can the Twins do to help shore up their deficiencies in the softer part of the relief corps? Maybe more importantly, what will they do?

Minnesota’s front office has generally seen the last couple of spots on a pitching staff as the conduit to churn what they deem as fungible arms, especially when they can maintain club control of a potential option that they cycle through. However, they have had a fair share of success in giving veterans a shot and accepting their fate if they cycle through again. Names like Jharel Cotton, Juan Minaya, and the recently traded Matt Bowman come to mind.

Could veteran righty Diego Castillo be the next elder statesman to get that call?

To his credit, Castillo has a lot going for him to be a reasonable consideration at some point this season. He has played parts of six MLB seasons between the Tampa Bay Rays and Seattle Mariners. Castillo has a history of throwing in the upper 90s with a high-upside breaking ball offering. He’s easily fungible if they need a fresh arm or if he can’t hold his own in the MLB.

However, Castillo’s play has dipped in the last few years, which explains how the Twins were able to ink him to a minor-league deal. In his six years of work, the 30-year-old owns a 3.22 ERA across 258 appearances, with a strong 10.2 K/9 and a 9.2% walk rate. But his brief major-league campaign last year was a small sample of disaster. Castillo had a 6.23 ERA in eight appearances before Seattle sent him to Triple-A. He never got his footing from there. He pitched in 43 games and had a 5.13 ERA and a drastically diminished fastball. Castillo used to push 98-99 MPH with that offering but sat at just 94 MPH last year.

That fastball could be essential when determining if Castillo is ready for another shot in an MLB bullpen. Even in his cold stretch last season, his slider still generated a 26.2% whiff rate. So, having a high-octane heater is essential to tunneling those pitches and catching his opponent in a guessing game.

Castillo has gotten the results many hoped to see with Triple-A St. Paul. Even after a three-run meltdown on Thursday night – his first blown save of the season – Castillo has a terrific 2.81 ERA across 16 games. His expected numbers show he’s mostly looked the part (3.36 xERA, 4.05 xFIP). Castillo’s strikeout and control numbers align with his career norms (28.8% strikeout rate, 9.1% walk rate), which is a great trend, considering those numbers had a steep decline coinciding with his lackluster 2023 campaign.

It’s also not difficult to foresee the Twins needing a fresh arm at some point, probably after one of the arms at the front of the bullpen takes one for the team and pitches to exhaustion (I’m looking at you, Jorge Alcala). Minnesota could send Kody Funderburk, Cole Sands, or Josh Staumont down after a particularly long outing or rough stretch. The Twins could also look to move on from Jay Jackson if he regresses into the struggles that have derailed his 2024 season so far. However, he has looked better throughout the last week.

While options like Ronny Henriquez or Alcala probably get first dibs the next time the Twins need a bullpen arm, Castillo could eventually find himself in the fold. It’s a long season, and there are bound to be injuries and inefficiencies throughout the year.

The upside is there for Castillo to seize a role and run with it, and the investment is low enough that it could be pretty inconsequential if the club decides to make him vulnerable to a claim if needed.

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