I’ll be honest upfront: Diego Castillo has been one of my absolute favorite players in baseball since he made his debut, and easily the reliever I have adored the most. That’s a crowded field, to be sure, but I promise it’s not an unfounded adoration. Let me explain.
I admittedly have a soft spot for the Rays and their seemingly endless array of quality-yet-faceless relievers, but Castillo has always stood out among them. While Tampa Bay is relentlessly condemned as lacking in star power, I’ve often felt that those who hurl such accusations simply lack the vision required to see the fainter ones in the night sky.
Castillo is one of those softly glimmering celestial bodies: beautiful to those who look carefully, but part of the endless inky black for those who can’t or don’t want to find them.
There’s the fact that he’s a flamethrower with absolutely nasty stuff, of course, and a frequent flyer on Pitching Ninja’s account:
Diego Castillo, Disgusting 99mph Two Seamer. pic.twitter.com/GjTTjkBt5s— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 8, 2019
But that’s not what we’re here to talk about. There are others who are better suited to persuade you of his dominance as a pitcher. My claim is that he ought to be placed on your short list of beloved Mariners for the kind of player he is as a whole.
Any Rays fan will tell you that Castillo is an absolute joy to watch on the mound. He carries himself with a quiet confidence that, on a moment’s notice, can go nova and electrify a stadium. If you’ve watched the Rays in the postseason either of the past two years, you are well aware of this.
Whether he’s called on for a five out save or brought in to clear a bases loaded, one out jam, he exits the pen with his classic closer’s jog, circles the mound like a shark out for blood, stares down the batter, shimmies as he works into the windup or stretch, and releases with such force that it appears as though his entire body could come undone with any pitch.
Diego Castillo, 100mph demon Two Seamer. pic.twitter.com/UlPTSztod5— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 16, 2019
Few pitchers in the game have his unteachable follow-through, either, as he violently, yet somehow gracefully, whips his entire body back to earth before catching himself on a pas de cheval down from the air. Which, speaking of chevals, Isabelle would like me to note that Castillo is “built like a wildly overbred quarter horse.”
All I can think of watching Castillo on the mound pic.twitter.com/U5oLOSCDAA— Isabelle Minasian (@95coffeespoons) October 3, 2019
I’m always happy to oblige.
The circumstances are obviously not ones the Mariners have familiarity with, nor are they likely to this season, but this clip highlighting Castillo’s final out in the Rays’ 2020 ALDS-clinching victory over the Yankees captures some of the energy you inevitably see from Castillo. He’s the type who lives and dies with every pitch, who will make every save feel like the postseason.
Speaking of the postseason, with this trade deadline now complete, the Mariners have two players with postseason experience: Joe Smith and Diego Castillo. For a team working toward contention in the near, ahem, future, this is no small thing.
For all the talk of Kendall Graveman being a clubhouse leader, which would seem to be the case, Castillo does not lack for clubhouse and dugout presence either. Once again, those who spend their Octobers watching other teams play to win it all are well aware of this. In all the Rays games I’ve watched (more than you’d expect!) I’ve caught at least a glimpse of Diego somewhere looking either engrossed in the game, cheering on his teammates with abandon, or doing something like...
There’s so much to be said for the quality of player that Diego Castillo is, his 12.14 K/9 this year, his career 77.2 LOB%, his 98th percentile xwOBA this year, and any number of other cherry picked stats you could use to argue we ended up with a better closer than we lost. While I would certainly agree with that assessment, it’s not the argument I’m here to make. No, I’d say we won out for other reasons.
The closer we got is one that shines in the spotlight, one who endears himself to and earns the trust of his teammates, one who has the swagger, joy, and grit we love already in this young, up-and-coming Mariners team.
He’s a player who should fit in almost instantly on the team, and has a chance to cement himself in a key role moving forward.
He’s a player you can look forward to watching work his craft, who you can trust to come out night after night to secure a win.
He’s a player on the Seattle Mariners, something I had never even let myself dream of.
I love him dearly, some would argue too dearly, and I believe he’ll quickly build a home in your hearts too, if he hasn’t already. Getting attached to relievers is a risky business, and I understand the reticence to approve of a trade with the ever-cunning Rays, but Diego Castillo is one that’s worth it.
Lay down your arms, forget your thoughts on the deadline gone by, and appreciate the ones we have now. If you focus on them, even the faintest stars will glitter in your eyes.