I got my first look at Nick Castellanos two years ago. As a third base prospect coming up in the Tigers system he impressed with his bat but not so much his glove. Tapped as the replacement for Brandon Inge, Castellanos’ fate all changed with a torn ACL from Victor Martinez leading to the signing of Prince Fielder. As we all know, the signing of Fielder moved Cabrera to third, blocking the talented right-handed third baseman from that position for the foreseeable future.
"That speaks to how good the Tigers are," Castellanos says. "In a perfect world, I would have been up with them and been playing third base. We have probably the most powerful team in professional baseball and sometimes you have got to play everywhere if you want to crack that lineup."
It’s a little odd to have the top prospect in your organization not able to find a home, but with Fielder at first, Cabrera at third, Torii Hunter manning right field for the present and Avisail Garcia seemingly in line to take over that spot at the end of Hunters tenure, finding a spot for Castellanos to play has been a struggle. Prior to the start of the Arizona Fall League season, Castellanos again switched positions, this time to left field.
That's actually a good thing. He projects better as a left fielder. Garcia’s arm is stronger than Castellanos and being a left side of the field player practically his whole life, the move to left makes perfect sense.
"It's a little more natural, but it’s still gets difficult," he says. "The ball still hooks towards the line."
The improvement has been noticeable to his Triple-A manager, Phil Nevin.
"As of late, and I can honestly say this, as of late he has made tremendous strides in the outfield," Nevin says. "I give a lot of credit to Gene Roof, who is our roving outfield instructor that has been here. He’s done lots of things to make him more aggressive in the path that he takes on balls to his right and to his left. He’s looking better and better."
It seems like we have been hearing about the accomplishments of Castellanos for a while now, but it is important to remember that he is still a 21-year-old kid. He has accomplished more in his brief professional career than most will accomplish in their entire careers and would be more age appropriate in the Low-A Midwest League. Playing between Advanced-A and Double-A, he compiled 172 hits and 10 HR, batting .320 with .365 on-base percentage and .451 slugging. He was named to the Futures Game and was crowned the MVP in a contest that featured players like Billy Hamilton, Jurickson Profar and Oscar Taveras.
"I have a lot of fond memories and I met a lot of great young baseball players that I’m now watching play in the big leagues," Castellanos says. "It was a lot of fun, but I can’t just sit back and dwell on those accomplishments because I still have to play."
All of the accomplishments that Castellanos made last season earned him a look in big league camp during spring training and while it wasn’t expected that the youngster would compete for a roster spot with the Tigers, he did give them something to think about.
"For a while there I thought that I had a shot," he says. "Reality then kicked in that they maybe were going to go somewhere else. I don’t blame them. I haven’t really had a lot of games in left field and even though I did well enough, they want me to do everything else as well as I can hit."
Will Castellanos see time in Detroit this season? That is yet to be determined. I can see him getting a cup of coffee at Comerica Park in September when the rosters expand, but not before then. Right now, he's batting just .245 with .290 on-base percentage and .406 slugging through the first month-plus of the minor league season. He has had limited reps in left field and has at times looked over matched at the Triple-A level.
Still it isn’t his glove that will get him to the majors as he projects to be a 50 grade defender on the top end which is Major League average. It is his bat that will not only get him to the major leagues, but keep him there for a long time: his bat projects to be a 70 grade tool with a 50 grade (some even project 60) for power. Even though his sample size in the International League is small, he has made a fan of Nevin, who himself understands the pressures of being a top-level prospect.
"I do know one thing, I have seen lots of guys come up and lots of young hitters," Nevin says. "He does things offensively that are pretty special that a lot of guys just can’t do."