Despite his lack of top prospect pedigree, Castano transitioned well to the majors for a Marlins team that was desperate for an innings-eater.
Exactly 10% of all Marlins games during the 2020 season were started by Daniel Castano. That would have sounded surprising—and troubling—at this time a year ago considering the numerous, higher-rated arms who were ahead of him on the depth chart. You would’ve thought, “What went wrong?!”
Of course, there was no reason to anticipate a pandemic back then, much less how it would affect Miami’s roster. Credit to Castano for taking full advantage of the unique circumstances.
Despite being the oldest player acquired by the Marlins in the Marcell Ozuna trade, Castano was the only one who didn’t have MLB experience entering 2020. He finished the previous season with some momentum as a mainstay in the Double-A Jacksonville starting rotation. But that only marginally boosted his prospect stock—the club declined to add the 25-year-old to their 40-man roster the following winter, leaving him exposed to the Rule 5 Draft (he wasn’t selected).
Castano earned an invite to major league spring training. He tossed five scoreless innings during Grapefruit League competition, spread out across three appearances. He was likely bound for Triple-A Wichita to open the regular season…had anything about the season been “regular”.
The Marlins included Castano in their 60-man player pool for the shortened campaign. He was, at best, ninth on the starting pitching depth chart behind Sandy Alcantara, Caleb Smith, José Ureña, Pablo López, Elieser Hernandez, Jordan Yamamoto, Nick Neidert and Robert Dugger once the real games began.
Then came the COVID-19 outbreak. Castano was flown up from Jupiter to join the patchwork pitching staff and debuted Aug. 8 against the Mets at Citi Field.
From there, Castano went back and forth and back and forth and back and forth between the Marlins active roster and alternate training site.
“The Italian Stallion” kept his approach simple against left-handed batters: four-seam fastballs up and sliders low and away. To combat the platoon disadvantage, he expanded his repertoire with sinkers and changeups. The bottomline results were good (.244/.315/.378 slash line allowed vs. RHB), but Castano struck out only seven of 92 righties faced (7.6 K%), the lowest rate among all major leaguers this season with 20-plus innings pitched.
Castano’s lone relief appearance came in the season finale after José Ureña suffered a fractured forearm on a comebacker to the mound. The Marlins had already clinched a postseason berth, but that did nothing to lower his intensity. Castano manhandled the Yankees with 6 1⁄3 innings of scoreless ball and was awarded his first career win.
Little more than an organizational afterthought the year before, Castano pitched the fourth-most innings on the entire team in 2020.
- Castano did not allow any stolen bases this season (opponents had 46 opportunities).
- He finished the season with 19 1⁄3 consecutive homerless innings pitched.
Giddy-YUP. Now THIS is ✨fashion✨ pic.twitter.com/I7evrddDi2
— Miami Marlins (@Marlins) September 11, 2020
Castano has been a reliable strike-thrower throughout his journey as a professional, but at most minor league stops, his run prevention was worse than his peripherals. Combining that history with the good ol’ eye test, I consider him an obvious regression candidate.
With a fastball that rarely exceeds 90 miles per hour, Castano needs more precise command or to develop extra movement on his pitches in order to be trusted as a consistent starter. Will the Marlins give him time/Triple-A reps to make those adjustments? In their ongoing search for impact bats and overpowering relievers, they may dangle him as a trade chip this winter, selling high to a club who would put him in a more defined role.
That being said, it’s not like there is an asterisk on Castano’s 2020 performance. On the contrary, he had an extra layer of difficulty due to the universal designated hitter. He is still capable of being useful depth.