Nick Castellanos has been the unequivocal top prospect in the Tigers' farm system since Jacob Turner was traded to the Miami Marlins last summer and the best position player in their system since Cameron Maybin warranted overall top-10 consideration in 2007. Castellanos was ranked the #21 prospect in all of baseball prior to the season by both Baseball America and MLB.com, and was rated as highly as #19 by Baseball Prospectus in their midseason rankings.
This doesn't tell the whole story, though. Andy Dirks has had a rough season at the plate, hitting .254/.311/.362 with six home runs through June 25th. His defense has been pretty solid, but it seems to be getting clearer that Dirks should not be an everyday player. Matt Tuiasosopo has been an excellent platoon partner so far in 2013, hitting .338/.466/.563 with 10 extra base hits in just 88 plate appearances. However, he is currently on the 15-day disabled list with an intercostal strain, and his minor league track record suggests that this success isn't sustainable. Avisail Garcia started off nicely, but has looked increasingly lost both at the plate and in the field as of late. He is hitting just .239/.280/.304 in the big leagues in June and has struck out eight times in his last 25 plate appearances.
What do the Tigers do to improve in left field? They could make a trade, but options like David DeJesus aren't as enticing as Tokarz would lead you to believe.
So, our attentions turn south. No, not to Giancarlo Stanton. That's not happening. Instead, we look south to Toledo, where Nick Castellanos has been biding his time until he gets called to the big leagues. When will it happen? Sometime in 2013, presumably. When should it happen? Let's take a blow-by-blow look and see if we can't find a clearer answer.
"His bat will be an upgrade over our current outfielders."
No debate here. Castellanos is hitting .296/.375/.476 this season with 10 home runs in spite of a rough April, where he hit just .259/.311/.444. He is currently on fire, hitting a scalding .355/.440/.559 with 11 extra base hits in June. He likely would not continue that pace in the majors, but it's hard to see him failing to outproduce Dirks offensively at this point.
"His glove isn't ready."
Recent reports of Castellanos' defensive abilities have ranged from "needs work" to "remember Delmon?" Statistically, he has three errors and four assists in 2013, but take those numbers with a huge grain of salt. Erin/SabreRoseTiger has noted some Family Circus-esque routes to fly balls in the outfield. That said, moving a career infielder to the outfield wasn't going to happen overnight. A couple more months in Toledo will help, but developing him into a decent defender is going to be a multi-year process.
"Keeping him in the minors delays his arbitration clock."
It's time to put this myth to bed. Unless the organization keeps Castellanos in the minors all season -- highly doubtful, given that he started the year in Triple-A -- they aren't going to get another year of service time out of him by delaying his call-up until September. He is already well shy of the 172 days needed to accumulate a full year of major league service time, and unless the club finds a way to keep him stashed in the minors for another month (or more) in 2014, he's going to hit arbitration after the 2016 season.
"The Tigers should make sure he doesn't hit Super-Two status."
This hasn't been brought up much when discussing Castellanos' timeline, but it's worth mentioning. For those that don't know, Super-Two players are those that have accumulated between two and three years of service time and are among the top 22% of all two-year players in terms of service time. They are then rewarded with a fourth year of arbitration at the expense of a year of club control at the major league minimum salary. You can read more about Super-Two status at Fangraphs.
If Castellanos is called up anytime in the 2013 season, he will likely miss that Super-Two barrier. If he somehow happens to fall into Super-Two status anyway, the Tigers have the payroll to deal with it. If he plays well enough to make those third and fourth years expensive enough for us to notice, then we throw a party because good things have likely happened for the team as well.
The summary: the Tigers shouldn't concern themselves with this.
"He's not on the 40-man roster yet."
This is now irrelevant because Jose Valverde was designated for assignment, leaving the Tigers with an empty slot on said 40-man roster. I only mentioned this because I'm happy that Jose Valverde is no longer on the 40-man roster.
"Well what would you do, Mr. Smarty Pants?"
If I were in charge, Castellanos would probably have started the year in Erie. At the time, he had just turned 21 and struggled in Double-A at the end of 2012. There wasn't much reason to rush him to Toledo. Fortunately, the Tigers brass knows much more than I do and the move has panned out. Castellanos struggled offensively to start the year, but adjusted in a big way and is banging on the door to the majors every time he reaches base for an awful Toledo squad.
If I took over the GM job today, I'd call him up. He's hitting at a blistering pace in Triple-A and has shown the ability to adjust when things aren't working. The Tigers are clearly going to bring him up to the big leagues at some point in 2013, and Garcia's current performance suggests that he needs more time in the minors. Castellanos' defense still needs work, but the current situation -- a strikeout-heavy pitching staff and Austin Jackson patrolling center field -- will make the transition as seamless as possible.
Long story short, the Tigers need to weigh the pros and cons of Castellanos' offense and defense when determining whether he's ready to play at the major league level. If the reports about his defense are overblown, call him up. If he still needs to work on pitch recognition and plate discipline, keep him in the minors. Service time considerations don't matter at this point, and if Castellanos can help the team in 2013, I think you have to make the call.
What would you do? Does Nick C. get the call? Do the Tigers go shopping? Or do they roll the dice and continue with their current cast of characters?