The Padres announced this evening that reliever José Castillo has been called up from Triple-A El Paso. Starter Yu Darvish is going on paternity leave in a corresponding transaction. While the club hadn’t made an announcement at the time, Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported last week that San Diego had added Castillo to the 40-man roster to keep him from opting out of his minor league contract.
Now that he’s back in the big leagues, the southpaw is nearing his first MLB appearance in three years. Castillo broke in with the Friars in 2018 and immediately impressed. Over 38 1/3 frames as a rookie, he worked to a 3.29 ERA with an elite 34.7% strikeout rate and an average 8% walk percentage. Castillo’s fastball sat in the 95 MPH range, and he held opposing left-handers to a pitiful .133/.220/.133 line in 50 plate appearances.
Castillo looked like a long-term bullpen piece, but his career has been thrown off track by a brutal series of injuries. He missed a good chunk of the 2019 campaign after suffering a flexor strain in his forearm. Castillo returned, made one appearance, then torn a ligament in his throwing hand. That ended his season, but it was far from the end of his injury troubles. The Venezuela native suffered a teres major strain in his shoulder in July 2020 and spent the entire shortened season on the IL. He tried to return last year, but he blew out in Spring Training and underwent Tommy John surgery in March.
In light of all the injuries, San Diego outrighted Castillo off the 40-man roster last offseason. They brought him back on a non-roster deal to give him another chance at getting back on track. Castillo finally returned to health in early May and reported to El Paso, and he’s picked up right where he’d left off in 2018 from a performance standpoint. Over 34 2/3 Triple-A frames, he owns a 2.08 ERA with a 32.6% strikeout rate, although his walk percentage has jumped to a somewhat alarming 10.1% clip. The free passes have shown up in a .359 on-base percentage allowed to lefty batters this season, but same-handed hitters are hitting only .227 and have collected a lone extra-base hit (a double) in 44 at-bats against him in Triple-A.
Castillo is still only 26 years old, and his upper minors dominance makes him an intriguing addition to the Friars bullpen for the stretch run. It’s certainly not out of the question he reestablishes himself as a key late-game option for manager Bob Melvin. Castillo collected big league service from 2019-21 while on the major league injured list, but he’s still set to finish this season with between three and four years of service time. He’ll be arbitration-eligible through at least 2025 as a result, making him a potential long-term option for San Diego if he again handles big league hitters. Regardless of how well he fares moving forward, Castillo can take no small amount of pride in working his way back to the highest level after such a horrific stretch of injury luck.