Chicago Cubs pitching prospect Luis Lugo and former major leaguer José Castillo were born in Venezuela but shared their common love for the game playing baseball over 5,000 miles away in Parma. Although their careers in Italy were brief and during different time periods, their imprint on Parma baseball will never be forgotten.
After impressing scouts pitching for Parma Clima and Team Italy during 2018 Haarlem Baseball Week in the Netherlands, former Cleveland Indians prospect Luis Lugo used his time abroad to make a case for a second chance in MLB and was rewarded with a minor league contract offered by the Kansas City Royals. In his eight appearances pitching out of the Parma Clima bullpen in Italy’s Serie A1 League, Luis Lugo (1-1, 2.25 ERA) dominated hitters with 37 strikeouts in 16 innings.
During Haarlem Baseball Week, Team Italy starter Luis Lugo threw five scoreless innings against Japan and limited the baseball powerhouse to just two hits with nine strikeouts and no walks allowed on July 13, 2018. He returned six days later to help Team Italy reach the playoffs with a win over Germany after a strong seven-inning outing. Luis Lugo led all Haarlem Baseball Week pitchers with 20 strikeouts during his 12 innings of work and put together a 0.75 ERA. The Kansas City Royals took notice and immediately signed him following the competition on July 23, 2018. Luis Lugo spent the latter half of the 2018 season playing with Team Italy’s Alex Liddi for Double-A affiliate Northwest Arkansas. The Chicago Cubs must have liked what they saw because Luis Lugo was recently claimed off waivers in the Rule 5 draft from the Kansas City Royals on December 13, 2018.
Infielder José Castillo AKA "El Hacha" (The Axe) played in 18 games for Parma in 2017. He made his Major League Baseball debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates at age 23 and stayed with the Bucs from 2004 through 2007 before splitting time between the San Francisco Giants and the Houston Astros in 2008. In 592 career games, he hit .254 with a .296 on-base percentage, a .379 slugging percentage, 39 homers and 218 RBI. Whether in Venezuela, Mexico, USA, Japan, Taiwan, or Italy, the late and great 37-year-old MLB veteran played professionally on the international stage for nearly two decades. Earning the reputation of being a clutch-hitter in Parma. José Castillo hit .364 with men in scoring position and delivered five two-out RBI during his short stint in Italy.
Inevitably the pair of Parma Clima alumni, Luis Lugo and José Castillo, ended up playing on the same team at the same time this year in the Venezuelan Winter League for Cardenales de Lara in Barquisimeto. Unfortunately as with their limited time playing independently in Italy, the time the duo shared together in Venezuela was also brief due to a tragic accident which took the lives of José Castillo and teammate Luis Valbuena on December 7, 2018. Both former major leaguers were victims of a fatal car crash en route to Barquisimeto after winning a game in Caracas.
The Parma baseball family will not be the same without José Castillo, but he will be remembered as a solid contributor to the growth of the game in Italy. Our deepest condolences go out to the friends and families of José Castillo and Luis Valbuena.
As for 24-year-old Luis Lugo, in honor of of his fallen Venezuelan teammates, he is throwing better than ever for Cardenales de Lara. In his 15 appearances and 23.2 innings pitched so far this winter, he has only allowed three runs (0.76 ERA) while striking out 15 hitters. He will report to 2019 Cubs Spring Training in Arizona with intentions of making a favorable impression on Italian American manager Joe Maddon to play baseball at the highest level against the game's elite in MLB. We wish Luis Lugo the best in realizing his dreams of reaching the big leagues. Forza #italia! #LetsMakeItHappen
by Roberto Angotti