As he headed into the 2011 season, San Francisco Giants pitcher Jose Casilla looked to be on the fast track to the big leagues. Coming off a dominant season with the Low-A Augusta GreenJackets, the then-21-year-old reliever had been added to the Giants’ 40-man roster and was arguably their top relief prospect. After attending major league spring training, he began the season with the High-A San Jose Giants and looked to be on pace to move rather quickly through the system. Unfortunately, disaster then struck for him.
Casilla, the younger brother of Giants reliever Santiago Casilla, struggled out of the gate in San Jose and gave up 13 earned runs in his first 12.1 innings. The biggest of his struggles, though, came on May 8, 2011, when he broke down and allowed four runners to reach base on five pitches, all of whom scored while he recorded no outs. Following this appearance, he was put on the disabled list with an elbow injury which ended up requiring Tommy John surgery in August. He was released by the Giants on August 5 of that year to clear a spot on the 40-man roster, though he was re-signed to a minor league contract shortly after he cleared waivers.
After a 735-day layoff, Casilla returned to the mound on May 11 with San Jose, and has become an effective pitcher once again. He has been able to retain his mid-90s velocity, and his most basic stats have been pretty impressive so far. While enduring the typical struggles with command that pitchers have while recovering from Tommy John, Casilla has been able to put up a 3.25 ERA over 52.2 innings.
If Casilla wants to regain his standing as a future big-leaguer, however, he will need to get back the fantastic command that made him stand out from the rest before his injury. Over the first five seasons of his professional career, which spanned 185.2 innings, he walked only 54 batters and gave up just two home runs. He had a 2.59 ERA over that span and a 1.11 WHIP.
In those few appearances preceding his Tommy John surgery and since he has come back, however, his peripheral numbers have not been as impressive. In those 65 innings, he’s given up four homers (three of which have come this year) and his WHIP is a much more pedestrian 1.49. While these are both things that can certainly be worked out and are likely a result of Casilla’s breaking pitches being limited during his recovery, it is crucial that he recovers his form as he moves towards being 100 percent.
At the age of 24, it’s now more important for Casilla to move up quickly through the system. His pitching style is actually quite similar to his brother’s current approach; while he has above-average velocity, he’s more meticulous in working with batters and his strikeout totals are not overwhelming. It’s worth noting, too, that before his surgery, Jose Casilla was highly praised for his off-speed pitches, while Santiago has generally relied more on the fastball to get outs.
With that said, if Jose can develop into the pitcher that his brother has become, he should be able to have a fine major-league career. But he will need to show that the effects of Tommy John surgery are behind him and that he is close to being the pitcher that the Giants thought so highly of a few years ago.