Followers of the Tigers minor league system should already be pretty familiar with Nick Castellanos. 2014 marks the fourth consecutive year in which Baseball America ranked the 21 year old third basmean as one of Detroit’s top two prospects. He has been a consensus top 50 prospect in baseball for the last three seasons, ranking 45th on BA’s list prior to 2012, 21st prior to 2011, and 15th on MLB.com’s list for 2014.
The era of prospectdom, however, has ended for Castellanos as with the trade of Prince Fielder and the switch of Migeul Cabrera to first base, he has been all but handed the starting third base spot for the Tigers next season. He should excel there, and could contend with Taijuan Walker of the Mariners and Xander Bogaerts of the Red Sox for the 2014 AL Rookie of the Year.
Castellanos’s calling card is his bat, which has been praised since he was just an amateur high school prospect before 2010 draft. His hit tool is top of the line, grading out as a 70 on the 20/80 scouting scale, according to MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, which has a high probability lead to averages in the .285-.310 range once he reaches the majors. Last season, Castellanos hit only .276 in Triple-A, but he was the youngest player in the league and .320 the year prior in Double-A. He has the potential to be .330 hitter but he, or any prospect for that matter, is unlikely to reach that ceiling.
Even as Castellanos hit, questions often surrounded his plate discipline and ability to get on base. He quelled those concerns last year, however, walking in 9% of his plate appearances, a rate roughly equal to the big league average.
He also has some pop, hitting 18 home runs last season in Triple-A, and projecting, according to Keith Law, to hit 25-30 long balls per season down the road. 15-20 home runs is a more reasonable expectation for his rookie season, however.
Regardless of how well Castellanos hits, he is obviously unlikely to replicate Prince Fielder’s production in the Tigers Lineup. That being said, when defense is factored in, he could actually bring commensurate value.
Nick isn’t exactly Brooks Robinson out at third, but he’s a capable fielder who won’t hurt the Tigers defensively. Prince Fielder on the other hand, cost the tigers 17.7 runs last year at first, according to UZR, and has never cost his team fewer 12. Since Miguel Cabrera will shift across the diamond to first base, he will also become a less of a liability with the glove, and replacement of Fielder with Castellanos could save the Tigers 20 runs in the field.
There is a shortage of production at the hot corner in the major leagues today, but the minors are ripe with talent. Seven legitimate third base prospects currently sit close to the big leagues right now, Castellanos should be the first to make his mark.