When the Kansas City Royals traded Whit Merrifield to the Toronto Blue Jays and got both Samad Taylor and Max Castillo in return, thoughts on the return heading back across the border to the states were mixed. With Taylor having yet to play a game in the Royals' minor league system and Castillo not getting much time with the big-league club, there's still a lot left to be known.
With that said, the small sample size from Castillo has undoubtedly been solid.
In two starts as a Royal, both road contests, Castillo has worked a combined 9.2 innings with just three runs allowed and eight strikeouts. He's also limited his walks to just two, which is something that has plagued Royals starters all year long. In full, Castillo's season ERA in 11 games is 2.97. He's made seven other appearances out of the bullpen, however, which is in line with the ongoing debate of whether he's a starter or long reliever.
Following Zack Greinke coming off the injured list, Castillo got optioned back down to Triple-A Omaha. Pitchers must spend 15 days at their next level following being optioned unless they get recalled as an injury replacement, so the odds are that Castillo's time with the Royals will be limited the rest of the way this season. Manager Mike Matheny, however, adds that Kansas City conducted conversations about whether to keep Castillo in the bullpen or not but ultimately opted for more innings in Omaha.
A question arises, though: Following his required 15 days, does Castillo deserve another start with the Royals? That answer is likely yes.
To be fair, Castillo hasn't been good in Triple-A since arriving after the trade. In four starts and a relief appearance, he's 1-1 with a 7.41 ERA and 28 hits given up in 17 innings. With that said, his previous 27.1 innings with the Blue Jays' Triple-A team saw him post a 0.66 ERA with 29 strikeouts and he struck out 35 hitters in 29 Double-A frames to begin the year. The odds are that Castillo's numbers will bounce back, and his five-inning, one-earned-run start against the Indianapolis Indians (the Pittsburgh Pirates' Triple-A affiliate) on Friday back that up.
It also isn't as if the Royals haven't already been dealing with question marks in their rotation. De facto "ace" Zack Greinke has battled injuries, young lefties Daniel Lynch and Kris Bubic have been inconsistent at best and righty Jonathan Heasley has also bounced in and out of the rotation throughout the year. Brad Keller, the club's projected No. 2 starter heading into the season, was demoted to the bullpen a few weeks ago. Only Brady Singer has been a relative constant. Adding Castillo back into the mix for a start later this month won't be interrupting a consistent flow; it'd be simply allowing another young player to show what he's made of.
As the 2022 season winds down, the Royals were supposed to head into the offseason with a somewhat clear picture of which young players did and didn't belong in their rotation in 2023 and beyond. That isn't necessarily the case right now, yet Castillo also factors into that picture. Is the big righty with a solid fastball-changeup combo worthy of getting another shot this season? Absolutely.
Castillo being another chess piece the Royals must figure out how to use isn't his problem. He should be lumped in with the rest of the "well, if..." pieces Kansas City has, and it's likely worth continuing that experiment in the rotation. Forget the numbers game — Castillo shouldn't be stuck in Triple-A for the rest of the year if it's avoidable.