Astronomers surmise our Milky Way Galaxy gives rise to about three new stars every year.
This year, there could be four.
Assuming you can’t hitch a ride on the Hubble Space Telescope to observe the star-making process firsthand from outer space, you can head to Comerica Park this summer and fix your gaze upon the new third baseman in town, Nick Castellanos.
You just might be witnessing the birth of a star, Detroit Tiger-style.
Castellanos, a Florida native, turned 22 years-old on March 4th. At 6 feet, four inches, and 210 pounds, he possesses an ideal frame for a hitter, one which he’ll continue to grow into over the next several years.
Castellanos had a high-profile high school career and was named the Florida Gatorade Player of the Year in 2010. He also played on a bevy of high-level national amateur teams and eventually committed to the University of Miami on a baseball scholarship.
Though highly regarded entering the 2010 draft, Castellanos tumbled to the Tigers at overall pick #44 because of his college commitment and signability issues. Detroit happily pounced on him with the compensation pick awarded for losing free agent Fernando Rodney to the Los Angeles Angels.
Though he had several decent years as a Tiger, Rodney never threw enough strikes and (for good reason) his baseball cap stylings were roundly unappreciated. But by indirectly bringing Nick Castellanos to Detroit, Rodney unwittingly left a legacy to the franchise which will probably dwarf his own.
Of course there’s a long way to go, but the early signs are favorable.
Let’s break it down.
Last year as a 21 year-old at Triple A Toledo, Castellanos had an impressive slash line of .276/.343/.450, with 18 home runs in 533 AB’s. His performance earned him a September call-up to the big club, where he had five hits in 18 AB’s.
In spring training at Lakeland this year, Castellanos hit .333/.348/.571, with a couple homers. His numbers have predictably dropped off as the team headed north and encountered better pitching, cold weather, and an intermittent schedule.
His slash line currently stands at .237/.267/.412 in 97 AB’s, with four home runs. These measurables are probably about what the Tiger management expected from the touted young rookie, who’s facing major league pitchers for the first time on a day-to-day basis (for comparison purposes, Miguel Cabrera hit .268/.325/.468 as a 20 year-old rookie with the Florida Marlins in 2003).
It’s what these numbers don’t show, though, that’s exciting about the offensive future of Nick Castellanos.
The first positive indicator is Castellanos’s orientation as a hitter. He’s not a pull-happy kid trying to hit as many tape measure home runs to left field as humanly possible.
Instead, he projects a mature approach to hitting that is beyond his years, as he is content to let the pitch travel deep into the zone and drive it to right field if necessary. This allows him to get an optimal look at the ball before pulling the trigger.
As Castellanos’s pitch recognition skills improve he may begin to pull more balls, but for now this approach is serving him well and makes him more difficult to pitch to and defend.
Oh yeah. There’s another right-handed hitter on the team that routinely hits to the opposite field with power, using a similar approach.
His name is Miguel Cabrera.
In addition to his hitting style, there are two other offensive tendencies which augur well for Castellanos and the Tigers.
The first of these is while Castellanos’s BA (.237) and OBP (.267) are low, his SLG% is a healthy .412, which places him third among all MLB rookies. Only Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox, with an astounding .604, and Yangervis Solarte of the New York Yankees at .426 are ahead of him. Abreu is 27 years old, Solarte 26.
The fact Castellanos is hitting for power at this tender age is very encouraging.
Even more noteworthy is Castellanos’s demonstrated penchant for knocking in runs at critical times. Among all MLB players, he is tied for fourth in game-winning RBI’s, according to sportingcharts.com.
A tendency to deliver in the clutch is of course a trait of many of the game’s greatest hitters, and while it’s too early to tell if Castellanos will make this a trademark of his game, he is clearly demonstrating grace under pressure in the early going.
Castellanos played shortstop in high school but projected as a third baseman in the professional ranks, and that’s where he was stationed in the minor leagues in 2010 and 2011.
Upon the signing of Prince Fielder following the 2011 season, Castellanos was converted to a left fielder in the minors when Miguel Cabrera moved to third base to accommodate Fielder at first. He remained an outfielder until Fielder was dealt to Texas this past offseason, when he was re-assigned to third base.
His ability to play the hot corner at a major league level was much debated in the offseason, but under the watchful eye of coach Omar Vizquel he has been a pleasant surprise to date. Castellanos has committed only one error in 49 chances, for a fielding percentage of .980, which is among the best of major league third baseman.
This number, though, is just a rough gauge of his defensive efficiency. Though Castellanos has not been spectacular, he has made routine plays with the regularity expected of a major league third sacker. Though Jim Leyland might have substituted for Castellanos for defensive purposes in late-game situations, Brad Ausmus has stuck with him. To this point, Castellanos has vindicated his manager’s confidence.
Though he’ll never have the range of an elite third baseman, Castellanos has shown in the early going he’s a defensive upgrade over Cabrera and can be relied upon in tight situations.
The Bottom Line
Nick Castellanos is a promising third baseman on the come.
He is capably manning a vital position on a top tier team and will continue to improve with greater exposure to top-level competition. There will be difficult times ahead, as there are for every young player. The league will adjust to the tendencies and holes in his game, and he will be forced to adjust in turn.
Such is the cat-and-mouse game of Major League Baseball.
But the early returns are very encouraging for Nick Castellanos.
And if the stars and planets align just right for him, he could end up being out of this world.