The Tigers are expecting -- actually, requiring -- big things from rookie prospect Nick Castellanos in the 2014 season. The consensus top prospect in the Tiger organization for the past few seasons carries with him the high expectation of most scouts and rankings as well. Castellanos is the 15th-ranked prospect in baseball, according to MLB.com's 2014 preseason rankings.
Castellanos begins the season as the putative starting third baseman for the Tigers. No matter how much the organization may try to downplay the expectations, the club has no bona fide "plan B" for the hot corner. It's Nick's job to lose entering spring training.
Only one other Tiger player made the top 100 list: newly acquired left handed starting pitcher Robbie Ray, who is ranked 97th. Dave Dombrowski has had nothing but nice things to say about Ray, indicating that he could be on the short list for a call-up should the need arise in the Tiger rotation. That he's second to only Castellanos would still come as a mild surprise to those who observe prospect rankings.
Baseball America rated the beleaguered Tiger system 29th of 30 teams, ahead of only the Milwaukee Brewers, at the end of the 2013 season. But if the system can fill the needs of the Detroit club when they arise, will anyone care?
In 2013, Castellanos hit .276 with an on-base percentage of .343, while slugging .450 for a total OPS of .793 at Triple-A Toledo. He added 18 home runs, 76 RBI, and had 37 doubles among his 154 hits. He was called up to Detroit in September, but played very little for the Tigers down the stretch in their race toward their third-straight AL Central division title.
The Tigers moved Castellanos to the outfield in 2011, since his former position at third base was blocked by Miguel Cabrera. Now that Prince Fielder has been traded and Cabrera is regaining his old job at the premier sack, the door is open for Castellanos to return to third base. There are still questions about his defense in the infield.
Robbie Ray threw 146 innings in 27 starts across two levels of minor league ball in 2013, striking out 160 hitters while posting an ERA of 3.36 and a WHIP of 1.25. The left hander immediately became one of the better pitching prospects in the Tigers organization when he was acquired as the centerpiece of a three-player package from Washington for Doug Fister.
MLB.com had this to say about the 22-year-old Ray:
Scouting Grades: Fastball: 60 | Slider: 45 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 50 | Overall: 55
After a disappointing 2012, repeating the Carolina League turned out pretty well for Ray. He pitched his way to Double-A Harrisburg and led all Nationals Minor Leaguers with 160 strikeouts. He then was traded to the Tigers in December in the Doug Fister deal.
Ray throws his fastball in the low-90s and can reach back for a tick more velocity when he needs it. His slider can look slurvy at times, but the best ones have good depth. He has a good feel for his changeup, which is a more consistent offering. His command has improved, but he would benefit from further refinement.
Ray is a good athlete and has proven to be durable. He relies more on pitchability than overpowering stuff to get outs, but he has what it takes to succeed as a middle-of-the-rotation starter.