The Situation: After winning the first two games of a three-game set against the Indians this weekend, the Tigers appear to be pulling away in the AL Central. The expanding division lead opens an opportunity for the club to play top prospect Nick Castellanos in September.
Background: A supplemental pick in 2010, the Tigers ponied up and signed Castellanos with a $3.45 million signing bonus. At 19 years old, Castellanos had little trouble with the Midwest League in 2011 with a .312/.367/.436 line backboned by 36 doubles. He had even less trouble with the High-A Florida State League the following year, hitting .405 in 55 games before being promoted to Double-A. Castellanos struggled with the transition to Double-A, hitting just .264 with 76 strikeouts in 79 games. His struggles continued in 2013 as he hit just .259 in April until a strong May and scorching June. For the season Castellanos has a .276 average with 37 doubles, 18 home runs, 54 walks and 100 strikeouts in 134 games for Triple-A Toledo.
Scouting Report: Castellanos is the very definition of a bat-first prospect, excelling in every facet of his offensive game while struggling with the glove. He has quiet hands and a balanced setup in the box with tremendous strength. Castellanos has exceptional bat speed, allowing him to let the ball travel deep and make late decisions about his ability to drive a particular pitch. He has uncanny hand-eye coordination and displays outstanding coverage, reaching pitches in and out of the strike zone and driving them to all fields. He has tightened his zone of attack in 2013 and displayed an improved approach that has resulted in even more hard contact. Castellanos is a line-drive hitter who uses the whole field. The ball explodes off his bat with that clichéd “different sound.” He has the ability to drive the ball out of the park, particularly to right-center, and he is beginning to learn to turn on the ball more consistently. At his offensive peak, Castellanos could be a .290 hitter with 20 home runs and 35 doubles.
In the field, Castellanos is a near polar opposite of his offensive profile. At his best, he is adequate in left field and more frequently he rates as a poor defender. Having moved to left field just over a year ago, Castellanos consistently gets poor reads off the bat and his initial reaction is often just as poor. His routes still need considerable work and most scouts are skeptical of his ability to become anything better than a fringe-average defender. He has raw arm strength but is still adjusting to the throwing mechanics required in the outfield; his arm strength doesn’t always show up in game action. A former third baseman, Castellanos was making slow progress toward passable defense at the hot corner prior to his move to the outfield, but a return to the infield is extremely unlikely.
Castellanos is one of the game’s most promising offensive prospects. He has demonstrated the potential to hit for average and power and as he adjusts to major-league pitchers he should hit more than enough to overcome any defensive issues that remain.
Immediate Big-League Future: Don’t expect Castellanos to play every day during his September call-up. The Tigers have gotten roughly league-average production out of left field this season, relying primarily on Andy Dirks and Matt Tuiasosopo. Castellanos will get some time in left field and also could get some at-bats as the designated hitter when the Tigers opt to put Victor Martinez behind the dish. He won’t play a ton and may well struggle with the transition to the big leagues, but Castellanos will gain some positive experience in the middle of a pennant chase this month. —Mark Anderson
Fantasy Impact: Just as we've been monitoring Castellanos on the Stash List this season, the Andy Dirks Watch had become almost a weekly staple, too: Castellanos was hitting .301/.378/.488 on June 30th, while Dirks was hitting .248/.305/.353. But in August, Dirks is hitting .279/.397/.410 and has been swinging the bat even better even more recently. Regardless of his actual skill with the bat, the opportunity for regular playing time has to be there in order for Castellanos to make for a solid pickup in the home stretch. Will it be? I'm not so sure.
And speaking of his actual skill with the bat, the fantasy profile for Castellanos isn't terribly sexy. In the long run, he should earn the bulk of his auction dollars in the batting average and RBI categories. The power has certainly been showing up more in games this season (his 17 bombs this year match his 17 from 2011 and 2012 combined), but it's not going to be his calling card. He's also not likely to contribute much on the base paths, as he's stolen only 15 bases in over 400 minor league games–and even that was at a measly 60 percent success rate.
One additional quirk to keep an eye on with Castellanos is his eligibility for this year and beyond. On most sites, he's likely to still have 3B status despite the fact that he hasn't actually played third base in a game since July 2012. The outfield eligibility will come in short order this year, but that 3B is going to drop off his player page for next season for most of you. And that's a real shame, as it puts a damper on his fantasy value going forward. Even if Miguel Cabrera misses an extended period of time, I would not expect Castellanos to see any time there.
Right now, Castellanos is best left for 16-team mixed leagues and deeper redraft formats, given the uncertainty around his playing time. In fact, I would not be surprised if he accumulated only 30-40 at bats the rest of the way–mostly against left-handed pitching. In AL-only formats, if you're in need of a corner bat, he's worth around 30-40 percent of your remaining FAAB budget, but don't go too crazy.
In keeper/dynasty formats, he's a must-grab in just about any size league. The potential for a .300 hitter with 20 bombs may not be the type of crazy upside that we see at the top of prospect lists these days, but sometimes probability and floor can be just as enticing. —Bret Sayre