One of the great perks of living in Orlando is being able to hop on down to Lakeland to watch the Tigers during spring training pretty much as often as I want.
I've lived in Florida most of my life, so I have had the privilege of watching some pretty great prospects come through Lakeland -- some have panned out, and some have crashed and burned. Earlier this year, I was able to watch Nick Castellanos firsthand in a spring game against the Washington Nationals. This wasn't the first time I had seen him in person, but it was the first time I had seen him in a situation where he didn't have to worry about what position he was going to play, or where he would start the year.
Statistically, Castellanos had a hell of game. He went 3-for-4 with a double and two RBI. He looked patient and comfortable at the plate and he made a nice running catch on a foul pop-up near the third base dugout. The thing that stands out to me the most from that day, however, was an offhanded comment made to me by my friend, Phil.
"Nick looks an awful lot like Evan Longoria at the plate, doesn't he?"
On the surface, they have similar physical attributes. Both are tall and somewhat lanky. Castellanos' current frame resembles that of a young Longoria, with wiry arms and legs protruding out of a solid torso. Castellanos has room to grow into his figure, just as Longoria had to, sometimes looking like he is trying to move faster than his body will allow him to.
Castellanos is listed at 6'4" with Longoria being measured at 6'2". Both weigh in at 210 pounds.
They both stand tall and upright at the plate, shifting their weight from high above their shoulder as the pitch is delivered. As their hands come down into a loaded position, giving them a direct route to the ball, you may notice a slight hesitation in the fluidity of their swing -- this moment of recognition gives them each the ability to react to fastballs and wait when needed on offspeed pitches. They each finish with hands thrown violently through the hitting zone, generating much of the power that they posses.
So, yes, from a physicality standpoint Castellanos does look an awful lot like Longoria.
Taking a closer look at their production, there are some similarities at this stage in their career too. As of May 6, Castellanos has played in 34 MLB games with 112 plate appearances. In that time he has four home runs, 18 RBI, 10 runs scored and a triple slash line of .240/.268/.394.
In the same 34 game span, through 136 plate appearances, Longoria had four home runs, 17 RBI, 15 runs scored and a triple slash line of .231/.316/.402.
Almost identical, right? So what does that mean, exactly?
Nothing. It means absolutely nothing.
The expectations that come along with being a top prospect, especially one that is thrust into the spotlight, can be burdensome at least and crippling at worst. Castellanos is playing for a team that is expected to win. He is taking over at a position for a three-time batting champion in Miguel Cabrera, and has the distinction of being pretty much the only prospect that general manager Dave Dombrowski has refused to part with.
Quite honestly, at this point I am just happy that he is able to hold his head above water.
Castellanos is a great talent, there is no denying that. But outside of a healthy Adrian Beltre, Longoria is the best third baseman in the game* right now. Aside from playing gold-glove defense, Longoria hits for power, average and is a catalyst in an otherwise offensively-lacking Tampa Bay Rays lineup.
If you were to take Longoria out of the middle of the Rays' batting order, it would be a devastating blow. If you were to remove Castellanos from the Tigers', they would find a way to manage.
Castellanos very well may be a big offensive contributor for the Tigers for years to come. In fact, I would bet on it. I love what I have seen from him so far, and it has been suggested that the Tigers should lock him up now. (Yes!) But, expectations should be tempered knowing that this kid (and I choose that word carefully) is still only 22.
He has the time to mature and grow, surrounded by veterans and all-stars. So, let's hold off on the comparisons for now and just enjoy watching the talent we have in front of us.
With all that being said, if Castellanos does in fact grow into an Longoria-like player, that wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.
*My apologies to Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado and David Wright.