This is my last article as a regular contributor to Fake Teams, but since I've already taken the time to say goodbye, I thought I'd just go ahead and get on with the program. I've chosen today's subject because he is a great example of exactly what prospects are and why scouting reports matter. He has not had a linear path in terms of progression, and while his stats might tell one story the scouting reports tell another. He's seen his star glimmer and dim throughout different points in his career. Nick Castellanos was drafted 44th overall (supplemental first round) by the Tigers in 2010 and he was their top overall pick. He was given a good chance to stick at the hot corner and had a great feel for hitting with some projecting power down the line and others concerned it might never come. Flash forward to 2013, and he's struggling to be a below average defender in left field while showing a good feel for hitting, with some believing the power will show up and others concerned it will never come. Moving down the defensive spectrum while merely maintaining the attributes one had at draft day is never really a good thing. That said, it's hard to be upset with what Castellanos has been so far.
He's a career .305 hitter in the minor leagues including a first half in 2012 that put him on every prospect map there is. Still at third base at the time, Castellanos scalded the ball as a 20 year old in Hi-A, slashing .405/.461/.553 in the pitcher friendly Florida State League until he earned a promotion to Double-A. He did struggle at Double-A, but given his tender age (still 20) it wasn't something to become concerned with. Despite a less than ideal .264/.296/.382 slash line in Double-A, including a meager 4% walk rate (compared to 9% at Hi-A), and a 22% strikeout rate (17% at Hi-A), the Tigers pushed Castellanos to Triple-A to begin 2013. They also transitioned him to the outfield (starting in 2012) because they have a certain Triple Crown winner and MVP entrenched at third base for the time being. So far in 2013, Castellanos' raw stats won't blow anyone away -.278/.351/.438 slash line with 13 home runs - but he's actually shown some impressive development. He's pushed his walk rate back up to 10% and lowered his strikeout rate down to 15%, the highest and lowest rates of his career, respectively (with a worthy sample size). He's also sporting the highest ISO of his career, and producing a 119 wRC+ at 21 years old in Triple-A. It's worth mentioning that while he is at Triple-A, this is the International League Triple-A, and not the Pacific Coast League Triple-A, where statistics have no meaning. This isn't all to say there aren't legitimate issues with Castellanos, there are.
What Castellanos does best is hit the ball. If there's one tool you want to have as a position player, it's the hit tool. It lets everything else work. He's got one of the easiest swings in the minor leagues, and while it's not Josh Vitters-pretty from the right side, it's plenty attractive in it's own right. His mechanics are very clean. There is not much noise in his set up and his load is simple. This allows Castellanos to generate a direct, balanced swing. He has a preternatural feel for barreling the ball, combined with good pitch recognition and the ability to let the ball travel deep before unleashing his swing. While his walk rate has just now cracked double-digits, Castellanos has that "selective aggression" thing down pat. He's a willing hacker with an idea of what to hack at, and he projects as a plus to plus-plus hitter at his peak. The power, of course, is the big question. Castellanos is tall at 6'4 and wiry at 210 pounds. He's got the type of frame that would portend future power, but he hasn't seemed to fill out as much as hoped since he was drafted. This has scouts questioning whether the power will ever arrive. I am optimistic and think that at 21 years old he will learn to add loft and backspin, enabling him to sacrifice some of his hit tool for some added power. I also like the idea that because of how much hard contact he generates, he will make the most of whatever in-game power he develops. His ability to make contact will allow any raw power grade to play up. On defense he's destined for left field, and it could be an ugly one at that. He's struggling to make the transition and while he has a strong arm, his routes are crude. I would have loved to see Castellanos get a chance to stay at third, even if he was below average there, as it would have been a huge boon to his fantasy value.
Castellanos is a guy I just enjoy watching play. He bats without batting gloves, which matters, somehow. He's a baseball gamer who also has terrific tools. He might be the type of outfielder who helps out in average and hits for enough power to keep his value afloat, or he could figure it out and be an allstar outfielder who hits for average and 20-25 home runs per year. It's hard to know where he'll end up, but either way he's worth investing in, especially at a point when people seem to be down on him in terms of prospect value overall. The things they're down on mostly won't affect his fantasy status, so you could be buying low.
You can follow me on Twitter at @cdgoldstein
You can find more of my work at The Dynasty Guru, MLB Draft Insider and shortly, Baseball Prospectus
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It's been a pleasure writing for you.