Jesus Castillo and Erick Leal Are the Two Newest Chicago Cubs Pitching Prospects

jesus castillo and erick lealWhile opinions on Tony Campana’s trade value ranged wildly from “none” to “UNTOUCHABLE!,” the truth was always going to fall somewhere in the middle. To our surprise yesterday – and to the continuing credit of the front office – it looks like the Cubs were able to wrangle value closer to the latter end of the spectrum than the former.

For Campana, the Cubs received two Venezuelan pitching prospects, each of whom is 17, and each of whom pitched in the Dominican Summer League last year. Each of Erick Leal and Jesus Castillo is a right-handed pitcher, and the 2012 season was each pitcher’s first professional year after being in the 2011 international signing class. Each is very intriguing for a number of reasons.

First, and foremost, let’s look at the signing bonuses. When it comes to international prospects under the age of 19 and with fewer than two professional years of experience, I tend to think the signing bonus they received is reflective of the general scouting opinion on their prospect status. In other words, the better the bonus a kid received, the better prospect he probably is (until he’s got many years of stats at higher and higher levels under his belt, and we can evaluate him a little more objectively).

Although the 2011 signing period was not subject to the new signing restrictions, which recalibrates our expectations for what constitutes a “high” signing bonus or a “low” signing bonus, I can say with confidence that each pitcher received a decent bonus last year from the Diamondbacks. Castillo got $250,000, and Leal got $75,000. Those levels are definitely commensurate with “legitimate” prospects, and are sufficiently high to suggest multiple teams were interested in each pitcher back when they were signing. That Castillo figure, in particular, is very interesting, and suggests he was a very well-liked prospect. He was Arizona’s highest priced international signing that year. (And, from the look of things, Leal may have been the second highest.)

Next, although they can lead you astray, it’s worth at least examining the stats these guys put up last year. Leal, for his part, was absolutely dominant in the DSL: 2.44 ERA, 6.36 K/BB, and 0.986 WHIP in 70 innings. He was just about as good as it gets in the DSL, which is never a bat thing. But temper that excitement: when you see pitcher stats like this in the DSL, it’s usually the sign of a very polished pitcher, but is not necessarily indicative of his upside. A pitcher with a decent fastball and a good offspeed pitch can shred the inexperienced hitters in the DSL. I suspect that’s what happened with Leal. Still, he had only just turned 17 when the league began, and the average age in the league was 19 years old. Leal could pitch this year in the Arizona Rookie League.

Castillo’s numbers weren’t as impressive: 5.40 ERA, 1.586 WHIP, and 2.41 K/BB over 46.2 innings. But, while Leal was merely “young” for the league, Castillo was “mega young.” He pitched the whole year at just 16, and was essentially tied with a couple others for being the youngest player in the league. Castillo is likely to repeat the year in the DSL, which is not a negative in the least.

If you’re not already intrigued, Baseball America’s Ben Badler offered some insights on the prospects, and it’s more goodness. First, some of what he had to say on Castillo:

He used to play soccer, and his athleticism is evident in his smooth delivery, which he repeats well for his age. He has a long, loose arm stroke, a long stride and gets good extension out front. He threw in the mid-80s when he signed, but he now touches the low 90s and has a good changeup for his age, though his breaking ball is still a work in progress. Castillo did post a 5.40 ERA last year, but if he were born a week later, he wouldn’t have even been eligible to sign until July 2, 2012, so he’s an intriguing arm for the Cubs to take a flier on.

And a portion of his comments on Leal:

When Leal signed, he stood out for his size, delivery, ability to throw strikes and spin a breaking ball. He progressed quickly and in some ways became a different pitcher than scouts had expected. He threw from almost straight over the top when he signed, but he’s since dropped down to a lower slot and gotten more life on his fastball, which was 85-88 mph when he signed but now sits around 88-89. Leal’s best pitch is his mid-to-high 70s breaking ball, an advanced pitch for his age with a chance to be plus. He didn’t have a changeup when he signed, but he’s developed feel for that pitch as well, giving him the potential for three average or better pitches if his velocity continues to climb.

I really like the way both of those read.

And if you’re down for some video, you can see a little bit on each of the pitchers. Castillo:

And Leal:

Now that you’re all jazzed, it’s time for the cold water: 17-year-old prospects, no matter how amazing, almost always flame out. It’s just a statistical probability. Even the best of the best prospects who come over to the States from the DSL frequently stall out. They are super young. They are super raw. And they have a super long way to go before they become notable trade bait, let alone productive big leaguers.

This is a great, great return for Tony Campana. It’s great to have these guys in the system. But let’s not go crazy about them just yet.

written by

Brett Taylor is the Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and on LinkedIn here. Brett is also the founder of Bleacher Nation, which opened up shop in 2008 as an independent blog about the Chicago Cubs. Later growing to incorporate coverage of other Chicago sports, Bleacher Nation is now one of the largest regional sports blogs on the web.

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