No. 1: Nick Castellanos, 3B/OF
This seems like a story that has been told a zillion times, but here it is anyways: Nick Castellanos was selected with the 44th overall pick in the 2010 draft. He was the Tigers' first overall selection of that draft, taken with the supplemental selection the Tigers received by not re-signing P Brandon Lyon. He was considered an easy first round talent by most teams, but some signability concerns pushed him all the way to the Tigers at #44. He was strongly committed to the University of Miami, but a $3.45 Million dollar signing bonus convinced him to forego college and sign with Detroit. He signed late, so he was only able to make 29 plate appearances for the GCL Tigers (Rookie league) in 2010, where he posted an .830 OPS. He was assigned to Class A-West Michigan for the 2011 season, and struggled mightily in the first month or so, hitting below .200 in April. But as the weather warmed, as did Castellanos' bat, as he hit .322/.385/.470/.855 after May 1st. Overall for the 2011 season, Castellanos hit .312/.367/.436/.803 in 562 plate appearances with 36 doubles, 3 triples, and 7 homers. He struck out too much (23.1%), walked some, but not enough (8%), and was rough defensively as he transitioned to 3B, but overall 2011 did nothing but prove that Castellanos was a special prospect. In 2012, he was promoted to Class A Advanced-Lakeland, where at 20 years old he was among the youngest players there. To say that Castellanos dominated Advanced A pitching wouldn't be doing it justice...he absolutely destroyed it. Through 243 PA's before being promoted, he hit .405/.461/.553/1.014. Absolutely ridiculous numbers, which in turn earned him a promotion to Class Double A-Erie. While at Erie, he hit somewhat of a wall as the season wore on. He was 20 years old, playing in Double A, and trying to learn a new position (RF) all at the same time. Did he struggle? Sure. Is that anything to worry about moving forward? Not in my mind. Anyways, for the 2012 as a whole, Castellanos posted an .815 OPS in 584 PA's with 32 doubles, 4 triples, 10 homers, 57 RBI's, and 72 runs. He cut down on his strikeouts (down to 20.2%), and still didn't walk enough (6.2%), but if anyone tries to tell you that 2012 wasn't an impressive season, just ignore them.
Like I did with Rondon and Garcia, I did a full-length comprehensive scouting report on Castellanos awhile back, which you can find here. Anyways, I like to start with the "bad" in these, so here we go. Castellanos has been moved from SS (where he played in HS), to 3B (where he played 2011 and first half of 2012), to LF. Obviously, it looks like the Tigers are set with Cabrera at 3B for the foreseeable future, and want to have a spot for Castellanos on the major league team when his bat is ready (soon). I thought he could have been a solid-average to above-average defender at 3B with more reps, but obviously that's somewhat irrelevant now with the move. He's rough in the OF right now, which is to be expected considering he's only played it for a couple months. His instincts are not sharp (yet), his routes aren't clean (yet), and he still throws the ball like an infielder, from the outfield. I think, with time and reps, he has the athleticism and overall ability to become an average defender in LF, but as Keith Law (who you won't see quoted in here very often) says, while he still will be an above-average regular in the OF, he could have been a star at 3B. Moving on, he has plus raw arm strength, and his arm was plus from 3B when he played there. It still shows plus projection from the OF, but he's currently struggling to actually throw like an outfielder, which cuts down on his current arm grade. I believe, in time, he'll have a plus arm from LF that would play as above-average from RF. He's a below-average runner without good acceleration, but he's not a base clogger. He has good instincts on the bases and once he gets going, he's not too bad, but you wouldn't mistake him for, say, Avisail Garcia on the base paths. Now, let's get to the good. Castellanos is one of the purest hitters in all of the minor leagues, and earns plus-plus grades from scouts on his hit tool's projection. He combines outstanding hands with excellent hand-eye coordination, excellent barrel awareness, and excellent natural ability to have the potential to hit over .300 consistently at the MLB level. Right now, he has some issues with pitch recognition which can lead him to expand the zone, and this is what he struggled with down the stretch in 2012. He has been quoted as saying that the biggest difficulty he faced in AA was that pitcher's could command the ball on the edges of the zone better than he had ever seen, which caused him to chase pitches on occasion. This is understandable, and I think he'll work past these issues in time. He has plus power potential as well. His bat speed and swing loft both speak to future plus power potential, and he showed increased HR power in 2012. It's just a matter of him getting stronger so that he turns some of his doubles in HR's. Overall, he's a stud in the batter's box, and you should be excited about him.
Castellanos has the ceiling of an impact regular who hits in the 3 spot of the lineup, hits over .300 consistently, and mashes 20+ HR's. He's truly an elite hitter, but we still need to be patient. The "Free Castellanos" movement during the summer of 2012 was absolutely garbage, and I won't be surprised if I have a brain aneurism caused by the people on twitter who believed that Castellanos would fix the Tigers' offensive issues. Anyways, as I've said multiple times, I like Castellanos better at 3B defensively, but his bat is pushing him towards the big leagues much faster than it had been anticipated, and the Tigers already have a 3B. For 2013, Dombrowski has said repeatedly that Castellanos will be in Class Triple A-Toledo, where he will play LF everyday and continue to hone his overall skill set. Should the Tigers have an injury in the outfield, I believe that Garcia will be the first call up simply because he's the much better defender, but Castellanos should see some time in Detroit this season at some point, although ideally it will be in September with the Tigers ahead by 15 games in the division.
So there you have it folks. The Top 50 Prospects Countdown is complete. I had a ton of fun doing this, and I sure hope you all enjoyed reading it. Oh, also, pitchers and catchers reported to spring training, so happy baseball everyone!