Nicholas Castellanos celebrated his 22nd birthday last week living out a dream, in spring training camp with the Tigers and preparing to be the starting third baseman. He is used to playing baseball in Florida. He attended American Heritage High School in Plantation, Florida for two years, and helped the team win a state championship in his sophomore year. American Heritage is a college prep school with pre-law, pre-engineering, and pre-med clubs. Hopefully Nick was not overwhelmed by the academic curriculum as he transferred to Archbishop McCarthy in Fort Lauderdale. His baseball growth continued as Nick was the Gatorade Player of the Year after a senior season with a .542 batting average and another state championship.
Nick played in the 2012 Futures Game, going 3 for 4 with a homerun and a walk, and was named the Most Valuable Player. He was used to showcase events, having been named MVP of the Under Armour All-America Game at Wrigley Field in 2009. His minor league record shows that big games are not surprising.
The excellent numbers gain him a high spot in the annual prospect rankings.
The strikeout rate really stands out. Here are some recent comparisons in Triple-A: Wil Myers, 23%; Josh Donaldson, 20%, Xander Bogaerts, 17%. Here are some recent comparisons among Tigers' prospects: Steven Moya, 27%; Daniel Fields, 25%, Hernan Perez, 25%. Castellanos actually cut down on his strikeouts last year, though his batting average did not reflect increased contact.
Nick was the 44th pick in the 2010 draft. Other teams thought it would be too difficult to convince him to turn down the University of Miami. Dave Dombrowski saw an opportunity and offered a $3.45 million signing bonus. That is now a sunk cost. Nick will make about $500,000 this year and his value should easily exceed his cost. Nick will not be a free agent until 2020. I didn't know the years could go that high.
Keys to Success
Watching Castellanos in spring training games, his swing is a joy to behold. But his defense creates anxiety. He fielded a squibber the other day and threw to first in time for the out, moving like a healthy Miguel Cabrera. His 6' 4" size limits his range, yet he is not known for reliably making the routine play either. The Tigers need to jump out to an early lead in the division and allow time for his work with Omar Vizquel to pay dividends with less pressure. Nick's hitting should be at least acceptable, if not good. But his defense will draw criticism and he needs space to develop.
Zero: The number of times Nick walked with the Tigers in 2013. He only walked in 4% of 341 plate appearances when promoted midseason to Double-A Erie, less than half his career rate. Nick has not shown as much patience at the plate when moved up in the middle of the year. Hopefully starting the season in Detroit will allow him to be comfortable and assume his more patient approach.
Nick will lock down the starting third base job, reach base sufficiently, and provide some power. By midseason, Ausmus will replace him defensively in the late innings of close games. Nick is just one more reason to keep Don Kelly around.
*Footnote: Chris Pittaro roomed with Billy Beane in the minors, graduated summa cum laude from Rider University, and has worked in the A's front office since 1991.