DUNEDIN, Fla. — Miguel Castro and Roberto Osuna have a lot in common these days. The right-handed pitching prospects live together, train together and work on their English together. And on the mound, both 20-year-olds are impressing Toronto Blue Jays decision makers with big-league calibre stuff.
Granted, they’re longshots to break camp with the Blue Jays, and it’s tough to read too much into pitching lines at a time when hitters are still refining their timing. But both Castro and Osuna are opening eyes.
“You see great stuff, you see poise, you see mound presence, two kids with a lot of upside,” pitching coach Pete Walker said. “They both look strong and capable. They’ll get some innings to show us what they can do.”
Opportunity exists in an organization that started moving its pitching prospects along more aggressively in 2014.
“Last year I can’t say necessarily that it was a change in philosophy, but we started pushing some younger guys through the system a little bit quicker and even brought some of them up at the end of September,” manager John Gibbons said.
Neither Aaron Sanchez nor Daniel Norris had experience in the upper minors entering last season, yet both reached the big leagues in 2014. The Blue Jays are at least contemplating the possibility that Castro — the more polished of the two prospects — could be next.
“If he’s really, really good this spring, there’s an outside shot he could be on the team simply because he’s advanced,” Gibbons said. “He’s got the great arm — he’s going to be tough anyways — but he’s advanced because he can throw strikes.”
Castro posted a 2.69 ERA in 80.1 innings in the lower minors last year, striking out 78 while allowing just 50 hits. Listed at 6-foot-5 and 190 pounds., he has an extremely tall and slender frame that allows him to generate 97 mph heat. After the 2014 season, Baseball America ranked him ninth among all Blue Jays prospects.
The Blue Jays consider him more advanced than Osuna, who came back from Tommy John surgery last summer to post a 6.26 ERA in 23 minor-league innings. Osuna, who placed seventh on Baseball America’s list of Blue Jays prospects, impressed Gibbons with his stuff during a stint in the Arizona Fall League.
“Osuna, all we’re waiting on with him is just refining it a little bit more,” Gibbons said. “I think Castro’s a little more polished with command, stuff like that. But they’ve both got big time arms. Both should pitch here for a lot of years.”
For now, the Blue Jays bullpen consists of Brett Cecil (assuming his shoulder heals as well as the Blue Jays hope), Aaron Loup and a lot of question marks. Rotation candidates Aaron Sanchez and Marco Estrada could join the bullpen, and Todd Redmond, Steve Delabar and Wilton Lopez are among the many others earning strong consideration for the seven spots in Toronto’s ‘pen.
The 20-year-old prospects are among them, though neither has a spot on the 40-man roster. Osuna hopes to win a job, but in some ways he’s simply relieved to be pitching at full strength and learning from players who have already tasted big-league success. Even in the probable event that he doesn’t break camp with the team, he’ll begin the minor-league season having watched the likes of R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Cecil up close.
“Those guys I try to learn everything from them,” Osuna said. “It’s an awesome experience to be here and play with those guys. It’s very exciting and it’s a big motivation for us. If I don’t make the team [right away] I hope to make it later.”
Like Castro, Osuna has primarily been used as a starter in recent seasons. But if either pitcher contributes to the 2015 Blue Jays, it’d presumably be in a relief role, where power matters more and secondary pitches are used less. It’s a whole lot to ask of two pitchers who just turned 20, but the upside is tempting for a manager looking for relievers with upside.
“You look around baseball now so many teams have hard throwers out of the ‘pen, more so than ever,” Gibbons said. “But they don’t always throw strikes and that’s what gets them in trouble. These guys can do that.”