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Tigers player preview: Will Nick Castellanos take a step forward in 2015?

Nick Castellanos seeks to secure the third sacker spot this season.

Nick Castellanos fields a ground ball in the sixth inning of a victory over the Yankees on August 28, 2014
Nick Castellanos fields a ground ball in the sixth inning of a victory over the Yankees on August 28, 2014
Leon Halip/Getty Images

Nick Castellanos let no grass grow under his feet in the past year. He played 151 games for the Tigers (playoffs included), establishing himself as a major league ballplayer. Plenty of hyped prospects fail to deliver. Castellanos not only delivered with the bat, he married his sweetheart in the offseason and then headed north to make a snow angel.

The problem is that while Nick metaphorically let no grass grow, any blades directly under his feet in the vicinity of third base were in trouble. Which is a polite way of saying he was something of a statue in the field.

What Nick does very well is hit line drives. His 28.5 percent line drive rate led the American League, and was second only to Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman in all of baseball. On the other hand his strikeout rate of 24.2 percent was among the top 20 highest in the game among qualified hitters. Line drives result from centering the ball. Swing a little below the ball, a fly ball (or worse, a pop-up) is produced. Even lower, and no contact is made. Pop-ups are not a problem for Nick with a rate of only 2.1 percent, less than half the rate of Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, and 12th lowest in the game. Over half the time, Castellanos either squares the ball up or completely misses. There is not so much in between, which is difficult to achieve.

Contract status

Castellanos celebrated his 23rd birthday this month and has just over one year of service time, so he need not be paid much more than the league minimum salary of $507,500 for his season's work. He is under team control through 2019. Miguel Cabrera's contract runs longer, so Castellanos will not be following Cabrera's career path by sliding over to first base any time soon.

Stats and projections
Year G PA HR R RBI AVG OBP SLG wOBA
2013 11 18 0 1 0 .278 .278 .278 .247
2014 148 579 11 50 66 .259 .306 .394 .307
ZiPS 154 621 17 61 77 .280 .327 .442 .337

ZiPS sees major improvement for 2015 with a .337 wOBA and 114 wRC+, numbers I find realistic. His excellent line drive rate combined with another year of experience should overwhelm the strikeouts and allow his production at the plate to mature.

Last season my forecast was dead on.

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.

As we saw, Castellanos turned into one of the biggest defensively liabilities in the game. An offseason poll asked whether it is time to move him to the outfield, and 70 percent of you said "keep him at third base another season."

This is the season to silence the critics. Don Kelly is no longer around for backup. Porcello the groundball machine is gone. Iglesias can cover most of the ground between second and third. Whispers of a longer term deal for Cespedes will grow louder, leaving Castellanos no place on the field except third base. If he can make nearly all the routine plays, the Tigers can live with the limited range. Slightly below average defense combined with above average offense will win us all over.