Grading the KC Royals: A pitcher's unremarkable season

Max Castillo didn't pitch much for Kansas City in 2023.
Mark Cunningham/GettyImages

Not a lot was known around here about Max Castillo when, together with Samad Taylor, he joined the Kansas City organization as the player price Toronto paid to acquire Whit Merrifield in a 2022 trade deadline deal. Yes, the KC Royals had faced the young righthander before, but only once, and the impression he left on the fanbase couldn't have been good — less than three weeks before the Merrifield trade, KC batters pushed him around for three runs and five hits in three innings.

Since the Merrifield deal, Castillo has pitched for the Royals only 12 times; that small sample size, accumulated in bits and pieces (Kansas City called him up from the minors and sent him back down repeatedly in 2023) doesn't provide much by which to gauge Castillo's performance or project where he fits in the club's plans.

Positive for Castillo, though, is his presence on Kansas City's 40-man roster, a spot he maintained when the team finalized the 40-man for Rule 5 Draft purposes earlier this month. Keeping him on that roster strongly suggests the Royals are no less serious about him now than they were when they acquired him.

But the potential job security a 40-man roster slot represents aside, how did Castillo perform for the team in 2023? What more do we know about him?

Max Castillo had an unremarkable season for the Royals

Royals fans didn't see much of Castillo this year. Although the club recalled him from Omaha four times, he spent less than a month in the majors, appeared in only seven games, and threw just 20 innings.

Nothing about his overall performance was overwhelming one way or the other. He gave up 10 runs (4.43 ERA, 101 ERA+), walked nine (3.98 BB/9), and struck out 10 (4.43 (K/9). His only decision was a May 21 loss to the White Sox, who roughed him up for five runs on eight hits in 4.2 innings when he couldn't protect a 2-0 lead after entering the game in the third inning.

Somewhat encouraging, however, were decreases in his barrel and hard hit rates — per Baseball Savant, the former dropped from 2022's 10.3% to 7.5%, and the latter dropped from 45.7% to 40.3%. Castillo obviously still has important work to do in those areas, but even some progress is still progress.

At the end of the day, this season wasn't particularly revealing for Castillo. He didn't distinguish himself as a star and didn't clinch a big league roster spot for next season. But he also didn't flop or pitch himself out of a job.

What grade should Max Castillo get for his 2023 KC Royals appearances?

Castillo went 6-7, 4.58 in 22 games (21 starts) and displayed decent control with a 2.17 BB/9 for 30-43 Omaha. But his 2023 grade depends on the strengths and weaknesses of his big league performance, not how he pitched in Triple-A.

Because he worked in only seven games for the Royals, it's tempting to give Castillo an incomplete. But we won't. Instead, he gets a C.