Welcome to the third in my series of prospect comparisons. If this were a movie trilogy, it would be better than the second one, but still inferior to the first...so you've got that to look forward to! This time we take a few steps over from shortstop, and look at two up-and-coming third basemen. Both of these guys will be arriving at an AL Central division near you within the next 3 years. Now, that may seem like a long time but think about it this way: Albert Pujols will still be owed $189 million 3 years from now. As far away from the majors as these guys are, I think they will both be rising up prospect boards after impressive 2011's, and I only expect them to improve in 2012. As always you can reach me via twitter (@cdgoldstein), email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or in the comments. Let's get to it...
Nick Castellanos - 3B - Tigers - Though the Tigers lacked a first round pick in 2010, they were able to get a first round talent in Castellanos at 44th overall. After giving him a $3.45 million dollar bonus (a record for the supplemental first round), the Tigers challenged Castellanos to begin 2011 at Lo-A West Michigan, no small feat for a Florida high school kid with seven games of pro ball under his belt. Castellanos began the season mired in a deep funk (he hit .179 in April), but was able to fight through it and ended up leading the Midwest League (MWL) with 158 hits; resulting in a .312/.367/.436 slash line. Though he only hit seven home runs in 2011, he did show decent power lacing 36 doubles, good for second in the MWL. I do think Castellanos will develop the power to be an above-average bat at third base in the long term, though it may take a couple years of filling out and learning to pull pitches to do so. That he is not a pull hitter at this time is a positive to me. He shows a willingness to hit the opposite way and gets good extension on his swing. His plate discipline improved as the year went on and he showed the ability to make in-game adjustments - a huge check mark in the plus column for me - though he did strikeout 130 times, highlighting an area that will need continued development. That said his walk rate was a solid 8% in 2011, a number that will suffice as long as he can keep from piling on the strikeouts. Castellanos committed 23 errors while transitioning to third base (he played shortstop in high school) but there should be no issues in terms of his ability to man the hot corner long term. Castellanos will begin 2012 at Hi-A Lakeland, so another slow start could be expected due to the cold weather. If you own Castellanos and that occurs, I'd hold stead considering his impressive recovery once spring arrived this year and would look to buy low if possible. While he likely won't reach the majors until 2014 at the earliest, he is a potential all-star, at what is traditionally a weak fantasy position.
Cheslor Cuthbert - 3B - Royals - A child of Big Corn Island, off the coast of Nicaragua, Cuthbert put a scare (had to do it) into opposing pitchers as the youngest player in the MWL in 2011. Polished for an 18-year old (and about 8 months younger than Castellanos), Cuthbert employs a simple swing to drive the ball to all fields. He is also able to work the count and shows advanced pitch recognition, registering a 10.5% walk rate - highly impressive considering his age and environment. His power lags behind his other secondary tools, as evidenced by his sub .400 slugging percentage, though he did hit eight home runs in only 300 at-bats. I believe Cuthbert could develop above-average power eventually, however I think he is more likely to hit 20-25 homers annually than 30+. A below-average runner with a thickening lower half - get your mind out of the gutter - Cuthbert is already facing questions as to whether he can remain at third base for the long haul and will have to maintain his quickness and agility to evade a move across in the infield. Likely to begin 2012 at Hi-A Wilmington, Cuthbert will have to avoid the late season swoon that he went through in 2011 (hit .127 in August) to solidify himself as a top prospect. If you already own or are looking to draft Cuthbert, I wouldn't worry about the aforementioned swoon just yet. He is young for his league and was tired from a longer season than he is used to, accruing only 128 at-bats in 2010. I wouldn't be surprised if the Royals moved Cuthbert a level at a time, as they have no incentive to rush him with Moustakas at third and nowhere to move him. This would put his arrival in 2015, though he should be quite ready at that point.
If I had to invest in one of these guys it would be Castellanos, no questions asked. I think he has more star potential and while floor is always important when looking at which prospects to acquire, I always lean towards ceiling. At his peak, I think Castellanos could provide something akin to a .315/.365/.540 slash line, similar to Adrian Beltre's 2011 with a little less power, and more average/OBP. My definite preference for Castellanos does not mean that Cuthbert should be ignored or undervalued however. He certainly has room to grow and develop more power (he actually had a better ISO than Castellanos this year), but I see Cuthbert as the type of player who will get overvalued because of his age relative to the league he plays in, while ultimately not developing the primary skills we're looking for. At his peak I think Cuthbert could hit his way to a slash line of .285/.360/.520, productive for sure, but well short of what I see in Castellanos' future.