Of the 108 years the Detroit Tigers had been playing ball, this charter member of the American League may have never found themselves in a deeper hole than when Dave Dombrowski took over the reins as General Manager of the beleaguered franchise in 2002. One of the first tasks Dombrowski was charged with in righting the ship was to quickly turn around the Tigers’ abysmal Minor League system, and with his success in building Montreal’s farm system (before winning the World Series with Jim Leyland and Co. with Florida in ’97), Tiger fans had a reason to be optimistic.
Dombrowski figured the quickest way to bring Detroit back to relevancy was to draft and stockpile young pitching. And for the most part, who can argue against him? By loading up on young pitching, Detroit would have a stable rotation for the future, and would always have trade chips at the ready if they sought out a deal by the July trade deadline.
Justin Verlander (2004 Draft) is a bona fide super star (duh!), Jacob Turner (2009 Draft) is benefitting from some extra seasoning while baseball talking heads assure fans he’ll be the next “can’t miss” power arm to emerge, and lanky left-hander Andrew Miller (2006 Draft) was supposed to be a staple in Detroit’s rotation before being a piece in the package to acquire Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera from Florida in 2008 (although his career has admittedly gone nowhere after eventually finding his way to Boston. If you can’t crack Boston’s rotation nowadays, you might want to reevaluate where your career is headed…)
Regardless of this perceived success, it can also be argued that Dombrowski has come up woefully short in drafting solid position players to put around the high-priced free agent acquisitions Detroit has brought in over the years.
Outside of Curtis Granderson (who was abruptly shipped to the Yankees in 2009 after the Tigers were sure his career had peaked), what other position players of note can Dombrowski boast about?
Brennan Boesch (2006 Draft) took the Majors by storm in his rookie year of 2010, hitting .342 with 12 HR and 49 RBI in the first half, only to limp home with a second half .216 average and 2 HR plus 18 RBI. Last season, his second in the big leagues, saw a more consistent .283 average with 16 HR and 54 RBI, but again had a major power outage in the second half and ended his season on the bench with a thumb injury watching the Texas Rangers beat his Tigers in the League Championship Series.
Catcher Alex Avilia (2008 Draft), the son of Dombrowski’s colleague, Assistant GM Al Avila, shared time with Gerald Laird in 2010 before putting up All-Star numbers as the starter in 2011. Unfortunately, his 2012 season thus far may prove 2011 to be a fluke, with only a .222 average compared to his .295 average of a year ago.
Scott Sizemore (2006 Draft), the heir apparent to All-Star 2B Placido Polanco (who Detroit let walk after the 2009 season) could never hit like he did in the Minors, and was shipped away to Oakland last May.
Gorkys Hernandez was supposed to take over in right for Detroit hero Magglio Ordonez. Instead, he, along with stud Jair Jurrjens, was shipped to Atlanta for Edgar Renteria in 2008. Mr. Renteria has been widely panned for his complete inability to hit American League pitching (his time in Boston and Detroit was laughable), but with Dombrowski and Detroit manager Jim Leyland in their 1997 World Series campaign in Florida, this made him a sentimental pick for the duo when putting together the eventual colossal bust that was the 2008 Tigers squad.
No other position players that were drafted by Dombrowski really jump out at you. Andy Dirks has done a fine job in left field this season for Detroit, but his tenure in the Majors doesn’t provide us with an adequate sample size for evaluation. No other Detroit starting position player is a draft pick of Dombrowski, which in of itself may be a damning accusation against Dombrowski’s ability to evaluate MLB-ready farm talent.
However, enter Nick Castellanos.
Castellanos, drafted out of high school in 2010, could be the guy to completely re-write Dombrowski’s poor record (in the eyes of this writer) of drafting position players. Castellanos hit .312 with 7 HR and 76 RBI in his first season as a professional in low Class “A” West Michigan, and so far in 2012, is hitting .413 (that’s not a type-o) with 2 HR and 27 RBI in high Class “A” Lakeland.
The display of raw talent put on by Castellanos has Tigers fans, even now, clamoring for his arrival in Detroit. Many want him to switch positions and try out second base, as the aforementioned Polanco departure in 2009 has turned second into a black hole in the Tigers lineup.
However, Dombrowski has firmly stated that 2014 is the earliest Tiger fans can expect to see him arrive in Detroit, and honestly, a position change at this juncture would probably be too risky.
BUT, Castellanos and even the most casual Tiger fans aren’t dull enough to think he’ll waltz right up to third in a couple years. A man by the name of Miguel Cabrera, (I’m sure you’ve heard of him) will be manning the hot corner in Detroit until at least 2015, when his mega-contract ends.
There’s no chance of moving Cabrera back to first, because another guy you may have also heard of, Prince Fielder, isn’t going anywhere immediately either, as his $200-plus million dollar deal has him in the Olde English D for the next nine seasons.
Why not move Fielder to DH and put Cabrera at first, you say? Well, that won’t work with injured DH Victor Martinez due back this September, and under contract until at least 2014.
So, where does that put Castellanos? Good question. Things could get pretty interesting before 2014 hits. I believe Detroit has to try to trade either Cabrera or Martinez before then. They will look phenomenally stupid if they trade Fielder (after making much fanfare and hoopla over Prince’s return to the haunts of his youth, where he spent time tagging along with father, Cecil, in Detroit’s clubhouse in the mid-1990s) and besides, who is going to want to take on that hefty contract? If Martinez is the man on the move, I’d have to think Dombrowski will get down on his knees and plead with Cabrera to DH, because Mr. Fielder has come out strongly against the idea of DH’ing, making a spot for Castellanos.
Or, Castellanos himself may be the odd man out, and, to the disappointment of Detroit fans, may never end up in the Olde English D after all, and instead, will be a piece of an unforeseen-at-the-moment deal in a year or two.
Heck, look at current Seattle catcher Jesus Montero last season. The Yankee farmhand looked up at legend Jorge Posada, and had nowhere else to go. He was dealt for a power-pitching Mariner Michael Pineda, and the rest is history (Pineda is injured and Montero is raking it out in the Emerald City). Could the same scenario be awaiting Castellanos?
So, Tiger fans, enjoy reading up on or watching highlights of Castellanos for the time being. Erie, Pennsylvania residents should be getting a nice early-summer present in a matter of weeks, as it is almost certain Castellanos will depart Lakeland for the Class “AA” Erie Sea Wolves soon. But, time will tell if Mr. Catellanos will play under the lights of Comerica Park, or will be blocked by Mr. Cabrera and Mr. Fielder, and will torment Detroit fans wearing another jersey via a blockbuster trade someday down the line.
Topics: Alex Avilia, Andrew Miller, Andy Dirks, Brennan Boesch, Cecil Fielder, Curtis Granderson, Dave Dombrowski, Dontrelle Willis, Edgar Renteria, Erie Sea Wolves, Gorkys Hernandez, Jacob Turner, Jair Jurrjens, Jesus Montero, Jim Leyland, Jorge Posada, Justin Verlander, Lakeland Flying Tigers, Magglio Ordonez, Michael Pineda, Miguel Cabrera, Nick Castellanos, Placido Polanco, Prince Fielder, Scott Sizemore