Monday, May 14, 2012

What Do Tigers Do With Nick Castellanos?

By Sean Gagnier

At the beginning of the 2012 season many Tigers fans were lamenting their team's defense, it was thought that the Miguel Cabrera experiment at third base wouldn't last 100 games because of his poor play - now that that has been proven false the Tigers are left with a problem, what to do with star third base prospect Nick Castellanos.

The Tigers are high on Castellanos, which explains why they drafted him 44th overall in the 2010 MLB Draft, but they drafted him as a third baseman and eventual replacement for Brandon Inge. Well, two things have changed. Inge is no longer with the team, and an all-star took his spot at third for the foreseeable future.

General Manager Dave Dombrowski has said in the past that they would continue to develop Castellanos as a third baseman, but that was before Cabrera showed that he could field the hot corner admirably. The question has continued to press on Dombrowski about Castellanos' future; he was moved from Single-A West Michigan to Single-A+ Lakeland this season and has tore the place up.

The Lakeland Flying Tigers have played Castellanos in all 34 games this season, at third base, but in those games he has had 134 at-bat's and has responded with a .403 batting average a .450 on-base percentage and a 1.009 on-base percentage plus slugging. In short, he's really good.

It is obvious that it is time to move Castellanos up a league to Double-A Erie, but when that move comes does he make the trip to Pennsylvania as a third baseman, shortstop or second baseman? With Cabrera occupying the hot corner at present and looking like he likely won't relinquish it any time soon it appears that Castellanos needs to be moved to a new position, but what?

Detroit just resigned Jhonny Peralta to a two-year extension, which means that shortstop is filled for the time being but that could change in the next couple of seasons. Castellanos has played shortstop in his baseball career, it was in the distant past, but not impossible for him to move one spot over.

Second base is where the Tigers have the overwhelming majority of their problems at the moment. Currently on the major league roster Detroit has three "second basemen," in Ryan Raburn, Ramon Santiago and Danny Worth. Raburn has set a new standard for poor play this season, so he is clearly no threat to Castellanos. Santiago has been, and remains, a utility player and backup at best, meaning that he is not and never will be an every day player.

Worth is still a bit of an enigma for Detroit as they have not gotten him enough at-bat's to be able to tell what they have in him, but even if he settles in and solves the Tigers problems at second for the time being, it would be hard to favor him over the kind of talent that Castellanos brings.

According to Baseball America, Castellanos is the Tigers second best prospect in their system right behind Jacob Turner. He is also ranked as the best hitter for average and best power hitter in the Tigers entire farm system. The projections came out prior to the Prince Fielder deal and Cabrera's shift to third base, but Baseball America has Castellanos projected to be the Tigers 2015 starting third baseman.

The same projection of the 2015 Tigers has Santiago as the starting second baseman, meaning that Detroit has no other options at that position. So if Cabrera, who is projected to be the 2015 first baseman, will still be playing and Detroit has no better options at second than Santiago, then Castellanos may have just found his spot.

Castellanos is not built in the typical second baseman form, he stands 6'4" and weighs 220 lbs., quite big for a second baseman. Although it is not unheard of for a second baseman to be 6'4", Cal Ripken was also 6'4" and 200 lbs., it is rare. With his power, a switch to second would draw comparisons of Dan Uggla for Castellanos.

Uggla stands 5'11" and weighs 205 lbs., but a comparison of Castellanos to Uggla would be a fair one. Both are power hitters who can field their position. Both have extra base power, after 34 games in Lakeland Castellanos has 15 extra base hits and both have obscenely good OPS numbers.

At third base Castellanos has drawn comparisons to Evan Longoria. Longoria is 6'2" and 210 lbs. and possesses the kind of power that many players dream of. If Castellanos can draw comparisons to both Longoria and Uggla, the Tigers need to hold onto him and treat him like the once in a lifetime prospect that he is.

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