Tigers top prospect Nick Castellanosrecently played in the Arizona Fall League’s rising stars game. Castellanos, got the nod despite going through some struggles in the elite league, giving us all an idea of how highly he is thought of around the league. Castellanos promptly delivered a couple of hits in the game, and much like his MVP performance at the Futures Game, he showed why so many people think highly of him.
In his first at-bat, Castellanos looked ugly on a slider swinging and missing. On the very next pitch, he took another slider to right center with a soft line drive for a single. These are the kind of things that excite scouts and the Tigers organizations alike about Castellanos. His ability to adapt within an at-bat, and often times his ability to adjust his hands throughout his swing. Some think those talents could lend to him winning a batting title some day. That’s high praise for a young man that reached AA at the age of 20 this past season.
However, 2012 hasn’t been without its’ bumps in the road for Castellanos. Despite hitting for a tremendous average for much of this past season, there is still a wart that keeps showing up with Castellanos. His BB/K rate isn’t what you would expect from a top hitting prospect. Castellanos in a nutshell is prone to striking out.
Now, there isn’t a lot of panic out there about Castellanos and his strikeout issue at this point. He is after all a 20 year old that was playing in AA. If you dig into the numbers, yes, he struck out more than one would ideally like in class high A Lakeland, but it wasn’t exactly an outrageous number. Castellanos struck out a little bit less than 20% of his high A at-bats. That rate did see a 5% increase when he made the mid-season jump to AA Erie, but one has to remember that he was facing guys that are on average at least three to four years older than he is.
I think the worry comes from the fact that Castellanos started AA strongly, but finished the season poorly, and has continued those struggles in the Arizona Fall League. He has struck out 25 times in 78 at-bats through 19 AFL contests. This could be an issue with fatigue. Castellanos, despite having a large frame, isn’t the meatiest of guys, and has some strength he still needs to gain. The flip side is it could also mean that as pitchers got more of a book on Castellanos, they began to figure out that he would chase out of the strike zone.
Aggressiveness isn’t always a bad trait as a hitter, and patience can be learned. Or at the very least, improved upon. The good thing is that most people in baseball believe that it isn’t a question of Castellanos’ ability to decipher pitches. He just has to begin to hone which pitches he can do damage with and have the patience to swing at those. As we have seen with fellow prospect Avisail Garcia, you can improve pitch selection with maturity.
Having seen Castellanos in person numerous times, I came into 2011 with all the confidence in the world that he was going to be a good player in the big leagues some day. You couldn’t watch his swing and not think he is going to be a good hitter. It’s rare that young hitters show the ability with their hands that Castellanos does, and he has a natural line drive swing that works up the middle nicely.
I will say that as the strikeouts pile up, there is a part of me that is beginning to wonder if his ceiling won’t be as high as I believed it would be coming into 2012. I lobbied ex-MCB contributor James Chipman before the season to consider Castellanos as the top prospect over Jacob Turner. Now, I question if he will have that top spot as I begin to do the list in the next week or so.
The reason is simple. It is rare that top notch hitters show the lack of discipline, or BB/K ratio, that Castellanos is showing right now. The good news is that he has plenty of time to work on it. That is, if the Tigers let him.
Have patience with Castellanos Tigers fans. He may not blossom into the type of hitter we believe he can be until he is 23. Just because he has been challenged at a high level doesn’t mean he is ready. It just means the Tigers believe in his ability.
And despite the little bit of doubt that has crept into my thoughts, I still believe Castellanos will be a good player too.