Recently, as regular readers of this site know, we here have named Nick Castellanos as the Tigers top prospect, overtaking Jacob Turner from the start of the year. Castellanos’ rise, not only into the conscious of the average Tigers fan, but to top prospect followers nationally, has been atmospheric in 2012. The rise has been well deserved as Castellanos has shown the ability to hit for average at every level he has played. Currently, his batting average sits in AA Erie near the .300 mark. His MVP performance in the Futures Game raised a lot of eyebrows in Detroit, and all over baseball.
We here at Motor City Bengals have been slow to discuss an interesting development regarding Castellanos. The Tigers have now been giving him reps in the outfield. The implications of the move are pretty clear. The Tigers might see Castellanos’ bat as something that could potentially help them down the stretch. Given the struggles of some of the Tigers corner outfielders, it’s not out of the question that we could see the Tigers top prospect in August or September. He just isn’t likely to be playing 3B or 1B because of Miguel Cabrera or Prince Fielder.
It also is interesting to note that it isn’t left field that the Tigers had Castellanos playing, it was right field. That should send a clear indication to current Tigers RF Brennan Boesch to play better…or else. But can Castellanos even play right field? And is this another case of the Tigers rushing a player before he is ready?
Athletically, Castellanos isn’t exactly a stiff. He isn’t fast by any stretch, and his range wouldn’t be anything special as an outfielder. He has good arm strength though, but I believe his future in the out field would be in LF. His isn’t going to have good instincts out there, given he is playing the outfield for the first time. In reality though, Brennan Boesch has been abysmal defensively in the outfield, and I’m not sure Castellanos could do much worse. He is a right hand bat and the Tigers have been kind of searching for one.
The next question would be, is Castellanos ready to begin his big league career? Truth be told, I don’t think he is. I understand all of the excitement surrounding him. Castellanos is easily the best position prospect the Tigers have grown in their farm since Cameron Maybin. Maybin I think is the perfect reason that we as fans should temper the excitement a little bit.
Even though the two are completely different players, Maybin an athletic freak, and Castellanos a hit machine, a look back at Cameron Maybin is still a little fruitful. The two uber-prospects both played in West Michigan at the age of 19 for a full season. Maybin hit .304 that season, while Castellanos hit .312. Maybin actually bested Nick in both OBP and SLG, giving him an OPS of .844, while Castellanos posted an OPS of .803. Castellanos has been much better at the age of 20 in high A ball than Maybin was, even though Maybin was no slouch, posting an OPS of .879. Castellanos posted an OPS of 1.014 in Lakeland before his promotion. That kind of OPS in the Florida State League is really good. It tends to be a pitchers league.
The Tigers gave Cameron Maybin all of 20 at-bats at AA Erie before deciding to give him his first major league shot. Remember how excited we all were for that? After all, Maybin was dominating the minors. In 20 AA at-bats, he hit four homers. Now, that obviously isn’t a sample size we should extract anything from, but the Tigers front office went ahead and brought him up anyway praising maturity beyond his years. Castellanos is being given more at-bats in AA, but there is clearly a reason he got moved to the outfield, and it’s because he has put himself in the minds for promotion to the Tigers front office.
David Dombrowski might do well to remember this similarity between Maybin and Castellanos. They both have struck out quite a bit in the minors even as they were advancing to the big leagues on their tremendous skills. Castellanos has struck out in about 24% of his AA at-bats, and has a 3/31 BB/K ratio. That’s a pretty good indicator that he could struggle against big league pitching if he was brought up right now. Big league pitchers are going to exploit his aggressiveness, much like they did to Cameron Maybin circa 2007. Again, I’m not saying it’s a perfect comparison, they are two different guys, but K/BB rates can be good indicators of readiness.
I am sure that if Castellanos is brought up, he would show some flashes of brilliance. Much like Cameron Maybin did hitting a bomb to straight away center off of Roger Clemens. However, there is a huge adjustment to the big league game, and hopefully the Tigers find another way to get offense, or the guys they currently have just pick up their pace.
Nick Castellanos is a real nice prospect. But as Cameron Maybin has showed us, and a whole host of others like him, minor league success isn’t necessarily a recipe for big league greatness. Hopefully Castellanos continues what he is doing and lives up to his potential. I have faith that he will.
I just don’t know if that is in 2012…