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Castro raising eyebrows around camp

Castro raising eyebrows around camp

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The faces aren't entirely anonymous but you can forgive Padres catcher Nick Hundley if he can't remember every pitcher he's caught during the first three weeks of Spring Training.

At least one, though, Hundley has no trouble remembering -- top prospect Simon Castro.

"Castro has been amazing," Hundley said. "He's got great energy. He has really got a feel for every one of his pitches. I didn't realize he was as advanced as he is."

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Castro, in his first Major League camp, has been impressive early in Spring Training both in games and bullpen sessions. The big right-hander, who won't turn 22 until April 8, has been the talk of camp.

Castro, who is 6-foot-5 and 203 pounds, has thrown three scoreless innings over his first two appearances and is set to throw one inning on Saturday against the Athletics. He is no threat to make the Padres' 25-man Opening Day roster.

No yet, anyway.

Castro is coming off a season where he was named the Padres' Minor League Pitcher of the Year. He went 10-6 with a 3.33 ERA in 28 games for Class A Fort Wayne, helping the TinCaps to the Midwest League title.

Castro struck out 157 batters in 140 1/3 innings and allowed only 118 hits with 37 walks.

"He's got a great body, loose arm, a fastball in the mid-90s and a strikeout type slider," said Randy Smith, the Padres director of player development. "His changeup is his third pitch. He's worked hard on that. Last year his command was leaps and bounds from where it was.

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"He's been a special kid since Day One. His makeup, work ethic ... It was evident when we first signed him what kind of kid he was."

Smith isn't just talking about Castro's big arm, either.

Castro, a native of the Dominican Republic, signed with the Padres in 2006 and almost immediately set out to learn the English language.

"I learned it by practicing every day with the guys," Castro said of his teammates. "... I didn't know any English when I got here. It wasn't easy. I was worried about it and tried to learn."

Why was learning English so important?

"I want to play baseball and I want to be in the big leagues. I think it's easier to be in the big leagues if I learn the language," Castro said. "I picked some words up right away."

Castro's impressive grasp on the English language has come in handy during the first three weeks of Spring Training, especially in the clubhouse.

"For me, these three weeks have been huge for me," Castro said. "I feel I'm learning a lot, being next to Chris Young and Heath Bell, guys who have many years in the big leagues. I'm using things I haven't learned before. I think I'm going to be better for having been with these guys."

The Padres have yet to decide where Castro will start the regular season, though there's a strong sentiment that he could skip over Class A Lake Elsinore and start with Double-A San Antonio.

"He's got high expectations of himself. He's got a very bright future. I said a year ago that he could be the Latos of 2010 ... but only time will tell," Smith said, comparing Castro to another highly regarded pitcher, Mat Latos, who jumped from Fort Wayne to San Diego last season.

"He's going to have some bumps in the road but he has got a chance to be real special. He's very business-like. He's not easily satisfied. All the things you're looking for."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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