Small sample size evaluations are fool’s gold in any walk of life but especially in baseball. Great teams lose to comically bad teams all the time. Heavy favorites lose in the World Series. Journeymen pitchers throw no-hitters. The best hitters go 0 for 4 or 2 for 20 and the worst go 3 for 4 or 8 for 18. That’s why it’s folly to draw conclusions from a few games or at-bats or innings pitched. And when the subject is a rookie with only weeks or fewer of service time, snap judgments and early opinions can miss the mark badly. So every thing that follows needs to be filtered through this reality.
But, darn it, one of the pleasures of baseball is sublimating these harsh realities to the raging hope engendered by a rookie having a promising start to his career. And when that rookie is merely carrying the success he had in the minors over to the majors all manner of restraint tends to disappear.
It’s fair to say then that the Tigers’ Nick Castellanos and Eugenio Suarez are enjoying solid starts to their major league careers. It’s also a fair assessment that their success is by no means a surprise. Both put up good minor league hitting numbers, although Suarez did so without the acclaim of Castellanos. Suarez, young for his level or age appropriate, averaged an .OPS above .800 from A- through AAA. Castellanos, always young for his level, did the same.
But what’s most intriguing about this rookie tandem is their age. Both are 22. (Suarez turns 23 in mid July). I did a quick search of years in which the Tigers turned two positions over to players younger than 23. I kept scrolling and scrolling back, through the 2000s, the ’90s, the ’80s, until I came to the ’70s and the Trammell, Whitaker, Gibson years. That’s how far back you have travel to find a comp to Castellanos and Suarez, two young (22 or younger) position players with solid minor league hitting track records performing respectably at the major league level (in 1991 Travis Fryman and Milt Cuyler were both 22, but Cuyler’s minor league record was pedestrian and so were his major league results ). Suarez, with his .889 OPS, has been the most impressive. But he’s a few months older than Castellanos, and his sample size is much smaller. Castellanos, while relearning how to play third base, has heated up recently posting an .823 OPS in June.
Given their tender age, the promise they displayed in the minor leagues, and the solid start to their careers it’s not a stretch to suggest that Castellanos and Suarez are the most exciting rookie position player tandem in Detroit in decades. Adding to the intrigue is that they both play important defensive positions. Castellanos’ future at third is hardly definite. And Suarez lacks the range of incumbent shortstop Jose Iglesias. But each of them has the skills to handle their current position long term. If their tantalizing bats continue to develop, however, any moves to other positions, outfield for Castellanos and second base for Suarez for instance, would still make them valuable.
Watching them develop over the balance of the year will be a fascinating storyline. If all goes as planned, the Tigers, in one fell-swoop, will have found long-term answers at two key positions. At worst, the Tigers hope they have added a couple of dangerous bats that will be around for five cost-controlled seasons.