Angel Castro has not followed the typical path of a Dominican baseball player.
He did not sign as a teenager like most of his countrymen. Instead he eventually came to the United States to attend junior college, where he ended up playing for Western Oklahoma JC.
The Detroit Tigers drafted him in 2006 when he was 23 years old. He spent two seasons in their farm system before he wandered between the Rays and Phillies systems, then pitched in an independent league, for two Mexican teams and one Japanese club.
After all that wandering, Castro has finally found a home in Albuquerque, emerging as one of the Isotopes’ best pitchers. The right-hander has gone 8-4 with a 3.51 ERA in 18 starts and six relief appearances. He has 87 strikeouts and just 36 walks in 110.1 innings this year.
Castro’s success has been as much about the mental side of the game as his stuff on the mound.
“It’s hard to pinpoint it but I think it’s kind of his nature where a whole lot of things don’t bother him too much,” pitching coach Glenn Dishman said. “He’s able to recover when things aren’t going too well, he doesn’t get too high when things are going well. He’s got a great arm. He knows how to pitch. He’s got four quality pitches.”
In addition to pitching overseas, Castro has also pitched for his native Dominican Republic in both the Caribbean Series and the World Baseball Classic.
“That was awesome,” Castro said with a smile. “It was amazing. There were so many Major League guys around. It was a great experience. Robinson Cano, Jose Reyes … it was crazy.”
That experience has helped Castro in terms of his confidence, Dishman said.
“His experience in the WBC, he’s been overseas, he’s been one of the guys in the Dominican Republic,” Dishman said. “So I think he’s always pitched in big-time games. So I think that’s what’s kind of helped him. I don’t think he feels intimidated by this league at all, by the elements or anything like that.”
Castro said he is still adjusting to life at Albuquerque’s altitude, even if his statistics do not show it.
“Pitching here is unbelievable,” Castro said, shaking his head. “Sometimes your breaking pitch is just hanging, you know? Sometimes you get scared to throw (breaking pitches). It’s very different.”
The turning point for Castro from past seasons to this one has been his ability to throw his secondary pitches for strikes.
“That’s very important,” Castro said. “Everybody sits on the fastball, everybody knows you throw a fastball, but if you can throw a changeup or command a breaking pitch for strikes, you keep them off-balance. You work hard (on your command) every day.”
This is also the first season in Castro’s career where he has been asked to swing a bat. In all of his previous stops the designated hitter was in effect. After starting his career 0-for-24, he lined a single to right field Friday night, drawing plenty of praise from his teammates.
“Yeah, a nice liner to right, a little bat flip,” outfielder Chili Buss said with a smile. “He felt pretty sweet. It was awesome.”
Castro is expected to make one more start in Albuquerque in the Isotopes’ home finale on Thursday.