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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

Long Beach Poly's Chris Castellanos is judged by company he beats

'Crafty' junior left-hander throws a perfect game against Long Beach Wilson ace Chase DeJong and then gets out of jam to defeat Lakewood and ace Shane Watson. Both opponents are potential first-round draft choices.

April 26, 2012|Eric Sondheimer
  • Long Beach Poly pitcher Chris Castellanos has been a dominant force on the mound for the Jackrabbits this season.
Long Beach Poly pitcher Chris Castellanos has been a dominant force on the… (Christina House / For The…)

Junior left-hander Chris Castellanos of Long Beach Poly is a 16-year-old "pitching savant."

So says his coach, Toby Hess.

"He's been amazing," Hess said.

What has happened to Castellanos in a week's time is nothing short of extraordinary.

Castellanos beat Chase DeJong of Long Beach Wilson and Shane Watson of Lakewood — staff aces, USC signees and potential first-round draft choices — in consecutive games.

He threw a perfect game, retiring all 21 batters in order, to defeat DeJong a week ago, 1-0. And on Tuesday he threw a complete game, escaping a bases-loaded situation in the bottom of the seventh, to defeat Watson and Lakewood, 3-2.

"It's an honor to beat those guys and a privilege to pitch against them," he said. "I was speechless after the Wilson game and I was speechless after the Lakewood game. I don't know what to say. Your goal is to go out and beat those guys every time out. But to think you can beat those guys in one week.... "

Castellanos has earned himself a special place in Poly athletic lore, and that's not easy at a school that routinely produces all-stars in the college and professional ranks.

He's 5 feet 10, weighs 180 pounds, has a 4.3 grade-point average and knows how to pitch and succeed even though his fastball isn't particularly fast.

It's almost laughable to see all the pro scouts hovering around the bullpen before games, paying close attention to DeJong and Watson while ignoring Castellanos as he loosens up by himself. Then the radar guns come out to document the fastballs beyond 90 mph for DeJong and Watson. They're turned off when Castellanos pitches, because pro scouts really don't care about someone who throws an 83-mph fastball, right?

"He's a crafty little pitcher," Wilson Coach Andy Hall said. "He throws at least three pitches for strikes. He's a gritty competitor."

Said Lakewood Coach Spud O'Neil: "He's having an amazing year. He's a neat kid. He has a dynamite changeup and his curveball is so much better than last year."

Castellanos has been on Poly's varsity since he was a freshman. Batters know him well in the Moore League. But his experience, control and ability to mix his pitches have enabled him to compile a 7-1 record and 1.19 earned-run average while helping Poly (19-4, 7-1) grab a share of the league lead with Lakewood. He's 18-5 in three seasons.

"We've struggled with the big teams in the Moore League," Castellanos said. "It's refreshing to break through."

Castellanos didn't start pitching seriously until he was 11. He played ice hockey and was into golf for a couple of years. But baseball and pitching have become his passion.

"It's my third year in the Moore League, and I've learned from my mistakes," he said. "All the hard work I've put in has paid off."

Whether college programs will recognize Castellanos' value remains to be seen, but teams in Southern Section Division 1 had better be ready to deal with him come playoff time.

And let's consider this question: What are the odds that a single pitcher could knock off DeJong and Watson in consecutive games?

"Those guys are so good," Hess said. "We've been losing to them for years."

So understand the achievement of Castellanos.

"He has ways of carving people up," Hess said.

And who cares about velocity when pitching is about hitting spots, throwing strikes and getting batters out?

"This has been a great week for Poly baseball," Castellanos said.

There's a lesson being taught by Castellanos each time he takes the mound and fools the skeptics.

"It's baseball," Castellanos said. "You never know what can happen."

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATSondheimer

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