Prospect Preview: Nick Castellanos

February 28, 2012; Lakeland, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers third baseman Nick Castellanos (79) poses for photo day in the rec room at the Detroit Tigers headquarters. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Nick Castellanos - 3B - Tigers - Despite sliding to the supplemental first round, Castellanos was considered one of the top talents in the 2010 draft. Selected 44th overall, Castellanos was the top pick of the Detroit Tigers, who had lost their first round selection as compensation for signing type A free agent Jose Valverde. Castellanos was available at such a late selection due to signability concerns and signed at the deadline for a supplemental round record $3.45 million. Castellanos struggled mightily in the early spring cold of West Michigan, hitting under .200 for the month of April. After that, he took the Midwest League by storm, ending the season with a league-leading 158 hits and an impressive .312/.367/.436 slash line.

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While his full season slash line was impressive for his first venture into full season ball as a 19-year old, there were some blemishes on Castellanos' season. He struck out 130 times on the season while walking 45 times, good for 23.1% and 8% respectively. An 8% walk rate isn't low enough to worry about, but is pretty borderline given his elevated strikeout percentage. Castellanos also didn't show the power he was capable of, hitting only seven home runs while posting a .124 ISO. There was also reason for concern in that his BABIP over the full season was a stunning .402, which would make us anticipate a large regression, at least in batting average for the next year. Well, we're two months into the next year and Castellanos' BABIP is a godly .493 (FOUR NINETY THREE), propping up an incredible, remarkable, Williamsian, whatever-other-superlative-you-want-to-use .410 batting average in 2012. With his batting average up 100 points relative to 2011, his on-base and slugging percentages have followed suit, resulting in a .410/.469/.546 slash line. It's important to note the on-base and slugging since we singled them out an weak areas based on his 2011 statistics. Castellanos isn't hitting .400 by swinging at everything he sees, instead upping his walk rate to 9.2% (a change of 1.2%) and reducing his walk rate an impressive 6.2% down to 16.9% on the season. While Castellanos has upped his slugging percentage 112 points, most of that is fueled by his rise in batting average, with his ISO rate only jumping 13 points. Combining that small jump with only two home runs, one could have slight concerns over Castellanos' ability to hit for power, though basing his power hitting prowess on statistics only would be foolish and premature.

Castellanos hasn't shown power hitting ability in games, but scouts believe that it will come as he fills out his frame and learns to add loft to his swing. What he does do well is pretty much everything else, using strong hands and an innate ability to barrel the ball to hit for average and doubles power at the moment,, hitting 36 doubles in 2011. As he gets older and fills out his frame, some of those doubles should turn into home runs. Castellanos also projects as an above-average fielder despite converting from shortstop in high school to third base in the pros. He shows good range and instincts in the field, as well as a plus arm that produces good carry on his throws. His footwork at third does need work, to the point that it was a detriment to him last year to the tune of 23 errors on the year. Despite a rough first year in his transition, Castellanos has the athleticism and skills to be a plus third baseman in time. Castellanos has shown the important ability to make in-game adjustments, always a phrase that I like to see when looking at prospects. I think that aptitude has shown itself in the vast improvements he's made to his game this year, and look forward to continued progression in the future.

Obviously, Castellanos has shown an impressive ability to hit for average when he's right (every month but April of 2011), and paired with an average or better power stroke down the line, Castellanos should develop into a top 10 prospect within the next few years. At only 20 years on and bucking for a promotion to Double-A, he is on the fast track to the majors, though Detroit has no reason to rush him with Prince Fielder at first, Miguel Cabrera at third and Victor Martinez likely occupying the DH spot. Castellanos should eventually push Cabrera to the DH role, or make for a blue-chip trade piece as the Tigers push for the playoffs the next few years. With an all-star caliber ceiling, Castellanos is the best hitting prospect in the Tiger system, and at this point has probably passed Jacob Turner for the honor of top prospect overall. Once he adds power to his repertoire, Castellanos will be a complete prospect at the plate, though it may be his defense that ends up being the final piece to his puzzle. Buying on Castellanos now might be purchasing at his peak, but he is the real deal as a prospect, and you wouldn't regret acquiring him given the option.

Source Material: Baseball America Keith Law/ESPN Fangraphs
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