Last summer, I participated in John's annual community mock draft, as the Cleveland Indians. I had the #5 pick, and I made it clear from the start that I was going by my own personal draft board. So, when I selected Nick Castellanos with that pick, it was pretty clear that it was completely unrealistic, but it gave me a pretty well-deserved reputation as a Castellanos fanboy here. I believed he had the best non-Harper bat in the draft class, and that it really wasn't close. I still believe that, but his tendencies this season have made that opinion a bit more clouded, and I think it's definitely necessary to double check my thoughts on him with a short study.After falling to the supplemental first round due to bonus concerns (the Tigers drafted him and gave him $3.45M), Castellanos made his pro debut last summer, spending a couple of weeks in the GCL. There, he hit pretty well in an extremely small sample size, batting .333/.414/.417 with a couple of doubles. Again, it was such a small sample (29 plate appearances) that his line was meaningless, but it hinted at his readiness for a full-season league. This year, the Tigers gave him that assignment, sending the 19 year old to low-A West Michigan.
He didn't respond immediately. Castellanos, a Miami native, didn't play any road games in the first couple of weeks, as rain forced cancellations and postponements of an entire series and a half. He struggled with cold weather at home (hint: West Michigan is cold in April), and just generally did not look very good at baseball. He hit .179/.222/.209 in April, with no home runs, and a 27.8% K-rate. Castellanos made Baseball America's Not-So Hot Sheet, though Jim Callis noted in a few places that he still preferred Castellanos to other prep bats from his draft.
A switch seemed to flip on May 1st, appropriately enough. He hit his first pro home run that day, in just the third multi-hit game of his season. From there, it was pretty much smooth sailing, as he got hot for most of the rest of the month, hitting .312/.356/.514. He still wasn't walking enough (5.3% in April and May), and was still striking out too much (down to 24.6% in May), but he was getting hits and showing some power. When June rolled around, Castellanos only hit better, to the tune of .408/.435/.579 on the month (as of 6/26). He again raised his BB% and lowered his K%, and again increased his ISO.
While his season line still sits at a merely-okay .306/.345/.452, Castellanos seems to be a notably better hitter than those numbers suggest. His post-April line (as of 6/26) is .351/.389/.540, with 5 home runs, and a 12/45 BB/K ratio. Most impressively, he seems to only be getting better as the year goes on, as he's had 12 multi-hit games in his last 15, and hasn't struck out once in his last 6. That's all pretty good for a 19 year old, and it makes me excited to see what he can do going forward this season.
What's the problem, then? One thing that terrifies me about Castellanos is a vague similarity to Josh Vitters circa '07. Vitters, too, was a prep third baseman considered to be one of the best prep bats in his class. He had a similar profile to Castellanos', as an elite pure hitter with above average power that had some plate discipline issues. In fact, their BA Draft scouting reports read remarkably similar in a couple spots. Both reports praised the respective hitters' swings, and both commented that there's a bit too much swing-and-miss in their games. The Vitters report reasoned that he swings at pitches which he shouldn't because of a reliance on his exceptional hand-eye coordination, while the Castellanos report didn't suggest a reason. Both hitters' power draws praise in the reports, and the two are similarly built.
Of course, we all know the story with Vitters. He has always had power in his game, but a lack of plate discipline has caused his contact ability to deteriorate rapidly since his 2008 full-season debut. In more than 1300 minor league at-bats, Vitters is now sitting at a .277/.316/.439 line, and is now considered a mid-range organizational prospect because of his pitch discipline issues. He's made only marginal progress with his walk rate since 2007, and his career rates are now at 4.1% BB% and 15.1% K%. His strikeouts obviously aren't the problem here, but Vitters just doesn't draw walks, and it's severely impacted his contact ability (.247 BA last year, .238 BA in his final 189 AB of '09). His ISO, too, has fallen off, to a still-respectable range in the .160s, but well short of his low-A and rookie ball rates.
This FanPost, though, is about Nick Castellanos, and not Josh Vitters. Vitters is merely a cautionary tale, though admittedly one that still could very well succeed in his own right. While the book is obviously not closed on him (he is still just 21 and in AA, after all), he has almost unarguably made his ascension to the majors more difficult by failing to develop any discernible plate discipline. My question or concern, I suppose, is whether or not Castellanos will encounter the same difficulties going forward. While he already has higher BB-rates this season than Vitters ever has had, he needs to reduce his strikeouts considerably, something that was never a major problem for Vitters. That being said, Castellanos seems to have realized that, and he seems to be actively working on it (and succeeding), which is obviously very nice to see. Time will only tell how he handles the higher minors, but for now, I feel comfortable maintaining my opinion that Nick Castellanos is an elite 3B prospect, and was the best non-Harper bat in the '10 draft class.