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Nick Castellanos fine tuning his work at third base

Castellanos is not taking for granted the opportunity granted to him, but he's also not putting added pressure on himself.

Kevin C. Cox

LAKELAND -- We have all but handed rookie Nick Castellanos a starting role at third base. He does not view it that way. In fact, he's taking nothing for granted while also saying all right things you expect of a rookie in the game.

"In this game, especially at this level, nothing's ever given to anybody. They're giving me a great opportunity to take the job. It's my job to do the best I can to make that decision easy as possible," Castellanos said Thursday morning, after sitting and chatting for several minutes with longtime great Dave Winfield, visiting Lakeland today on behalf of the MLB Players Association. Winfield was entering his 19th season in the big leagues about the same time Castellanos was born in 1992.

I'm here with a bunch of guys just trying to play baseball and win games. -Nick Castellanos

"It's always easy to put on added pressure, but at the end of the day it's just going to put unnecessary pressure on yourself," Castellanos said. "So I just view it as I'm here with a bunch of guys just trying to play baseball and win games."

Castellanos went 1-for-3 Wednesday, but no one is really worried about his bat. He should hit for average and has added a little power each year as he grows into his still-young body. It's how Castellanos performs in the field that is of chief interest.

Tigers manager Brad Ausmus liked what he saw in the game, even the play Castellanos didn't finish. "He's made some nice plays at third base, which is important," Ausmus said. "We want to get him some repetition over there, just because he's moving from the outfield. He had a rocket hit at him yesterday, I think it was from (Dan) Uggla, I can't really blame Nick on, it was hit extremely hard. But he almost got him."

A high school shortstop who made his professional debut at third base, Castellanos was shifted to the outfield not long after when the duo of Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera appeared to be set at the corners for years to go. The theory being, there really wasn't anywhere else but outfield to put Castellanos, so that's where he'd have to break in.

With Fielder traded and Cabrera bounced across the diamond to first, Castellanos has the opportunity not just to make the Tigers' roster out of spring training, but to make it as a starter. It's not hard to project him as an upgrade at the hot corner, but he and the team both know there's still work to do.

Ausmus initially did not offer any specifics about areas Castellanos could use work, but after a few beats thinking about it came up with one area: "Getting the footwork back in the infield, specifically third base, is the most important thing. Get your feet in order and the rest of your body follows."

Castellanos, who says his throwing strength and accuracy are probably the best aspect of his game, meanwhile, remained a little more vague in areas to improve: "I always have to do extra stuff just because I haven't played it in a year and a half," he said. "It's definitely a lot easier to learn than the outfield, because the outfield I was learning from scratch. There's definitely a little "it's like riding a bike again," but you still want to fine tune and just work on anything so you're prepared for the games. There's no one glaring area that needs a lot of work. Just everything. Keeping your rhythm, being fluid, just being confident."