Detroit Tigers third base prospect Nick Castellanos (Mark Cunningham, Getty Images)
Prospect of the Day: Nick Castellanos, 3B, Detroit Tigers
Two years ago, Nick Castellanos was a high school star in Florida, preparing for the 2010 baseball draft. Fast forward to 2012, he's hitting over .400 in full-season baseball, establishing himself as one of the best hitters in the minor leagues.
Castellanos was drafted in the supplemental first round in 2010, from high school in Southwest Ranches, Florida. He was considered a certain first-round pick for much of the spring, but his bonus demands and a University of Miami scholarship scared teams off. The Tigers took a shot and signed him for $3,450,000 (a record for the supplemental round) a few minutes before the draft deadline. He went 8-for-24 (.333) with four walks in a seven-game trial in rookie ball, then moved up to the Low-A Midwest League for 2011. He got off to a slow start, but hit better as the season progressed, finishing with a .312/.367/.436 mark despite a high strikeout rate (130 whiffs in 507 at-bats).
Promoted to Lakeland in the High-A Florida State League for 2012, he's had a remarkable spring, hitting .405/.451/.554 with 13 walks and 28 strikeouts in 148 at-bats.
Listed at 6-4, 210, Castellanos is a right-handed hitter and thrower, born March 4, 1992. He has a strong throwing arm, and the former high school shortstop is making steady strides at third base. He's still error-prone but is showing better range this year, and with further improvements to his reliability he'll stick at the hot corner. Although not much of a stolen base threat, he's not a slug and runs well for a bigger player.
The key here is the bat. In high school, Castellanos had a reputation for being a power hitter who would hit for a decent average. His batting average has turned out better than expected: he's a career .333 hitter in his first 179 pro games (all in pitchers leagues), and it's not a fluke. Instead, it turns out that home run power is the issue: he hit just seven homers last year and has just two so far in '12, giving him nine bombs in 755 plate appearances.
Although he hasn't been a home run masher, he hits plenty of doubles, 36 last year and 12 this season, and most scouts anticipate that his home run production will increase as he matures. He uppercut more often in high school but has taken a more balanced hitting approach as a pro. He's also made strides with his plate discipline and is making better contact this year, showing a considerable reduction in his strikeout rate (28 in 148 PA), lowering his K-rate from 26% to 19%.
Word from Detroit is that the Tigers don't want to rush him and are planning to keep him in High-A for awhile longer, working on his defense and plate discipline, while watching his power development. This seems a reasonable course of action. If everything works out, he will develop into a regular third baseman, hitting for average and power with a solid glove. There are a few unanswered questions here, but Castellanos has All-Star upside.