While many fans will remember 2017 as the season the Tigers traded away their hopes of contending for the rest of the decade, a very productive season at the plate by Nick Castellanos slipped under the radar.
Castellanos’ raw stats last season were very impressive. He hit 36 doubles, 10 triples, and 26 home runs. His 72 extra base hits was sixth in the American League, tied with Khris Davis of the A’s.
He also had 101 RBI (9th) and 301 total bases (10th).
Castellanos led the American League in triples. He had only hit 14 triples across the last three seasons before hitting 10 last year.
Digging deeper into the stats, it appears that Castellanos may have only scratched the surface of what is to come.
His 6.2% walk-rate is right in line with his career norms. However, his 21.4% strikeout rate is the lowest of his career, an encouraging sign for the 25-year-old.
Much was made about Castellanos’ hard-hit percentage last season, and for good reason. Castellanos finished the season with a hard-hit rate of 43.4%, the fifth highest in the major leagues among qualified hitters.
Additionally, Statcast credited Castellanos with the 10th most barreled-balls in the league.
Basically, Castellanos absolutely stung the ball last season. His results showed a lot of success, but he suffered some bad luck that kept his numbers from being truly elite. His .313 BABIP was a career-low, helping depress his batting average to .272. It is pretty rare to see a player post the hardest hit rates of his career (and some of the best in the league) and see his BABIP go down.
There’s not a distinct explanation for this, other than Castellanos must have not followed the old baseball adage of “hit em where they ain’t”.
Regardless, if Castellanos can barrel up baseballs and make hard contact like he did last year again in 2018, we could be looking at an All-Star caliber hitter at just 25 years old.
Hitting has never been an issue for Castellanos in the major leagues.
Defense, however, has been a challenge.
The Tigers have struggled to find a spot for Castellanos dating back to his days in the minor leagues. He originally came up as a third baseman, but the Tigers shifted him to left field after moving Miguel Cabrera to third to accommodate Prince Fielder. Once the Tigers moved on from Fielder and shifted Miggy back to first base, they moved Castellanos back to third and promoted him. He understandably struggled defensively, and never really found his groove.
He stayed at third for the majority of the 2017 season, despite his poor defense.
Then, the Tigers traded closer Justin Wilson and catcher Alex Avila in late-July to the Cubs for their third baseman of the future, Jeimer Candelario.
This prompted another move for Castellanos, this time across the diamond to right field. He posted a ridiculously bad -5.3 UZR in 173 innings.
It is unfair to judge Castellanos on only 173 innings of work, especially when he had no previous experience in right field. However, there is no doubt that he will need to make dramatic improvements defensively if he wants to stick in the outfield long term.
With Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera occupying the 1B/DH spots for 2018, Castellanos will need to stick in the outfield at least through 2018. If he does not prove he can handle the outfield, he could move to 1B full-time starting in 2019 while Cabrera shifts to DH.
Of course, the Tigers may not have that opportunity as Castellanos reportedly turned down a contract extension at the start of the offseason. With only two years left before he becomes a free agent, Castellanos could be on his way out in Detroit.
Next is up a bench bat who has a guaranteed spot on the 25-man roster, as long as the Tigers want to keep him: