"Who is Cesar Carrillo?"
I was counting up the names on the Astros' 40-man roster earlier this offseason and came across the name of a right-handed pitcher that I didn't recognize. I thought I was familiar enough with the Astros farm system to know the names of guys with enough talent to make the 40-man. But this was a name I'd never seen before.
A quick set of searches on The Crawfish Boxes revealed that he'd never been mentioned on the site before, whether in a front page story, a fan post, a fan shot, or even a comment! I set out rectify this situation and did some digging to try to answer the question of who Cesar Carrillo is and why he is on the Astros 40-man roster. This is the result of my search.
How did Carrillo arrive with the Astros?: He was out of options in early September when the Padres had to put him on waivers to make room on their 40-man. Surprisingly, the Astros weren't the ones who claimed him then. The Phillies grabbed him, but immediately put him on waivers themselves so that they could try to get him in their system without having to keep him on their 40-man roster. Padres GM Jed Hoyer calls this a "frustrating" practice (though you can imagine he uses more colorful words when not doing an interview), and said that Carrillo was a guy they didn't want to give up, but were forced to do so by their circumstances. And so the Padres claimed Carrillo back from the Phils just 15 days after they initially put him on waivers and 6 days after the Phils had claimed him. He wasn't long for the Padres, however. The Pads put him right back through waivers, and he was very shortly claimed by the Houston Astros.
Why did the Padres, Phillies, and Astros all want him in their systems? When San Diego picked Cesar Carrillo in the first round of the 2005 draft (18th overall, six picks ahead of Brian Bogusevic), the team hadn't been expecting him to slide as far as he did. He was considered by many to be the most major-league-ready pitcher available in that draft, and it's not hard to see why. He had a fastball that he could crank up into the high-90's, along with a solid curve-ball and an "almost-ready" circle-changeup. His ceiling: a #3 pitcher.
Baseball America had him ranked as the #1 prospect in the Padres system in 2006 (#88 overall), and their #2 prospect heading into 2007. His rise through the minors was soon interrupted, though. In 2006, he began having forearm soreness. He tried resting it to avoid surgery, but this didn't work, and Carrillo ended up getting Tommy John surgery in mid-2007.
What has Carrillo done lately? Carrillo hasn't quite been the same pitcher after his Tommy John surgery. His strikeout rate has hovered in between 5.0 and 6.0 K/9, which is a far cry from the 10 K/9 he was cranking out in his first professional season. Before the 2010 season, Friar Forecast stated that at his best, Carrillo has a consistent low 90's fastball that can occasionally reach 94-95, an above-average curve, and a solid change-up. Although his speed has returned, his curveball is different, changing from a "hammer" curve to a "slow looper". He was getting more groundballs, though fewer K's, and is relying more on his change-up than he had previously.
Still, in 27 AAA games in 2010, Carrillo put up a 5.60 ERA (4.84 FIP) with lackluster K and BB rates. He pitched about 10 innings in 2009 at the major league level over the course of 3 starts, with mixed results. Two of his starts, he didn't complete the third inning (4 ER in one start, 8 ER in another). The other start, was by definition a quality start (6 IP, 3 ER), though it's hard to call it that when he racked up 4 BB and only 2 K.
So why do the Astros want Cesar Carrillo?: I have a couple of theories on this. First, when Ed Wade was "between jobs" as a GM, he worked for the Padres front office as a scout. It's possible that during this time, he took a liking to Carrillo, though Wade was not with the Padres when they drafted him and he wasn't around when Carrillo began his post-Tommy John re-habbing in 2008. Maybe Wade is gambling that Carrillo can get back on the major league track if the team is patient with him. Although something like 85% of players are fully recovered from Tommy John about 18 months after surgery, maybe Wade thinks Carrillo is one of those guys who just takes a lot longer. He's still under 30 years old (he'll be 27 in April), so he still has time to figure things out.
Maybe the Astros organization just considers him a depth guy. He might be useful to the major-league club as an occasional call-up in case of an injury in the rotation. Or perhaps the Astros think he might be a good candidate for changing jobs. A guy who once upon a time was able to throw in the high-90's may be a good fit in the bullpen.
What do you think?