Kervin Castro had grown up focusing on catching, but a couple of tryouts in Venezuela late in 2014 changed the trajectory of his career. That Christmas Eve, just 15 years old at the time, Castro stepped on a mound and hit 86 mph. A week later, he got up to 88 mph.
Castro became a pitching prospect, but he has never forgotten what it's like to get in the squat or crouch down on the infield dirt as you wait for a ball to be put into play. What has stood out so much about Castro's early appearances this spring is the pace, the way he delivers a sizzling fastball and then immediately gets back on the rubber, ready for the next pitch.
Castro was made for the pitch clock era, if it ever fully arrives. He said he pitches at such a fast pace because he has noticed it works to his advantage.
"Working fast, I feel comfortable doing that," Castro said through interpreter Erwin Higueros over the weekend. "I also think of my infielders and outfielders. It keeps them in the game, they don't fall asleep out there."
The pace on the mound is currently matched by how quickly Castro is elevating from unknown minor leaguer to a potentially trusted bullpen option. Castro, 22, has made just 28 professional appearances -- 14 out of the bullpen in the Dominican summer league and 14 strong starts for short-season Salem-Keizer in 2019. But he is on the fast track to Oracle Park, having been added to the 40-man roster in November and brought up constantly by team officials and manager Gabe Kapler in the months since.
Kapler is positive by nature, and he often starts his Zoom press conferences by pointing out three or four players who excelled in a given game or workout. But there's always a little more excitement in his voice when he talks about Castro's early success.
"That is a future major league pitcher," Kapler said recently. "That pace, that tempo, he's on the mound and ready to deliver the baseball before the hitter is ready. He's pounding the strike zone and when he's not in the strike zone he's very close to it and throwing his secondary weapons for strikes. This is a kid that looked just like that in instructional league and every bullpen session is consistent and it's composed and it's professional. Fantastic performance (tonight), he's just a really impressive kid."
Earlier in camp, Kapler compared Castro to former teammate Keith Foulke, who had 191 saves in the big leagues and made an All-Star team. It wouldn't be a shock to one day see Castro pitching the ninth for the Giants, but right now they'll continue to ease him in. Castro still has not even pitched in A-ball, although he certainly skipped a few levels with his work last year.
Castro has a catcher's build but team officials were pleased with the work he did during the minor league break and the kind of conditioning he showed when he arrived in Arizona for the instructional league last fall. Castro said he had moved to Orlando, where he found a trainer with a gym at his house. He threw regular bullpens and faced live hitters once a week.
The Giants put Castro, Camilo Doval and Gregory Santos on the 40-man roster early in the offseason to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft. With the inexperienced Castro in particular it seemed like a curious decision, but when the Giants saw all three right-handers sitting in the upper 90s -- and sometimes more -- with promising breaking balls, they knew they couldn't risk it.
"Even though those guys don't have upper-level experience, when you're a reliever and you have that kind of arm you can move really quickly," president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said at the time.
Castro said he was a little surprised to be added to the roster.
"I was the one with the least experience and the least innings, but it showed the hard work that I had put in," he said.
That has continued this spring. Castro arrived early to have more time to settle in, and he has dazzled in bullpen sessions, showing off good command of a fastball that has hit 97 mph this spring, along with a sharp curveball and changeup. And then, of course, there's that tempo.
Kapler has thrown Castro into two Cactus League games and he has two perfect innings, striking out three of the six batters he has faced. The Giants will get him more minor league development early on, but they seem poised to take a look at Castro in their big league bullpen at some point this year, continuing a meteoric rise for the fast-working pitcher.
"That would be a dream come true," Castro said.