Detroit Tigers third baseman Nick Castellanos had big expectations coming into 2016. So far he’s done everything asked of him, including leading the team in batting as the surging Tigers head into May.
Former Detroit Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski selected high school prospect Nick Castellanos with the 44th-overall selection back in 2010. The compensation pick was given to the Tigers when “Type B” reliever Brandon Lyon was lost to the Houston Astros via free agency.
Dombrowski then went on to hand over a $3.45 million signing bonus to Castellanos, making it the most ever for a draft pick that was selected after the first round. (Compensation picks are awarded by Major League Baseball to teams who loses a player to another franchise and the selections are technically between the first and second rounds).
From that point forward, the pressure was on for the highly touted power hitter from Southeast Florida. Castellanos drew comparisons (per Bleacher Report) to Tampa Bay Rays All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria and quickly proved he had what it takes to be an everyday player.
As he rose through the Detroit Tigers minor league system with ease, fans began to wonder what may happen to one of baseball’s top prospects that was finally on their team.
Historically, Dombrowski is known to trade developmental talent for proven players. It seemed like Castellanos days were numbered in 2012 when the Tigers were looking for the final piece to a World Series-winning roster.
At the time, Castellanos path to the big leagues was blocked due to Miguel Cabrera playing the same position at third base and Prince Fielder seemingly locking up at first base for the foreseeable future. The Philadelphia Phillies were tanking after they won their world championship in 2008. Ace Cole Hamels had three months remaining on his contract while the Phillies were desperate for a future everyday third baseman.
It seemed only like a matter of time until Hamels was a Tiger and Castellanos was the centerpiece going back to the Phillies in a blockbuster, trade-deadline deal.
But for some reason and possibly the only time in Dombrowski’s time as Tiger, he decided to hold on to a prospect and kept Castellanos. It didn’t make much sense at the time and the Tigers were eventually swept in the World Series, but once Fielder was sent to Texas and Cabrera was able to move back over to first base, Castellanos was slated to be the everyday third baseman four years after being drafted.
After a couple full seasons of figuring things out, it seems as if Castellanos has turned the corner and is making a major impact for the Detroit Tigers so far this season.
Leading the American League with a .361 batting average and tied for the team lead in RBI’s with 18, Castellanos is seeing the baseball better than ever and is doing much better with offspeed pitches so far this season.
Last year Castellanos was an easy strikeout victim for any pitcher who could locate their offspeed stuff and at times wouldnt play if it was not a fastball pitcher. This season things are a bit different, as seen on Sunday Afternoon when he tied the game against the Minnesota Twins by smashing a breaking ball over the fence to help rally the Tigers late.
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His fielding at third base won’t earn him any Gold Gloves in the near future, but he is nowhere near the defensive liability he once was. On multiple occasions so far this season he has shown a solid ability to throw out runners after fielding the ball off the bat.
He still needs to work on catching the ball via relay when tagging out runners, but the improvement made season by season proves he will only get better with time and for now no longer needs to be pulled early from games that the Tigers lead.
Of course every Tigers fan would rather have the 2012 World Series Championship instead of Nick Castellanos. Trading him for Cole Hamels wouldnt have guaranteed it, but a lot of people are quick to point the finger that not making that move may have cost the Tigers the World Series that season.
But watching a hitting prospect rise through the minors who is as highly regarded as Castellanos has been a fun experience and something that hasn’t been seen in a long time for Tigers fans. If he can continue his progression at the plate and finish the season anywhere near .300, the Detroit Tigers should be right there in September competing for the AL Central title or a Wild Card position.