The Detroit Tigers farm system isn't exactly loaded with talent right now, but their top prospect, outfielder Nick Castellanos, had a solid season in Triple-A. The Tigers have promoted him to the big league roster for September. What can we expect?
Nick Castellanos was drafted in the supplemental first round in 2010, 44th overall, out of high school in Southwest Ranches, Florida. He was considered pure first round material and could have easily gone 30 slots higher, but teams were worried about his bonus demands, as he reportedly wanted $6,000,000 to sign. He ended up accepting $3,450,000, which was still a record for the supplemental round.
He made his pro debut with West Michigan in the Low-A Midwest League in 2011, hitting .312/.367/.436 with seven homers, 45 walks, and 130 strikeouts in 507 at-bats. Moved up to Lakeland in the High-A Florida State League to open '12, he hit an incredible .405/.461/.553 in 55 games. Promoted to Double-A Erie, he found advanced pitching more challenging with a .264/.296/.382 mark in 79 games.
Despite his struggles in Double-A, the Tigers moved him up to Triple-A Toledo for 2013. He responded with a .276/.343/.450 line with 37 doubles, 18 homers, 54 walks, and 100 strikeouts in 533 at-bats before his promotion to the majors this past weekend.
Castellanos is a 6-4, 210 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born March 4, 1992. He began his career as a third baseman and was making progress locking down the position, improving his footwork and lowering his error rate. Nevertheless, the Tigers moved him to the outfield last summer and he's played the entire '13 season in left field for the Toledo Mud Hens.
He is a mediocre outfielder, showing a decent arm but lacking speed, range, and natural instincts for the position. However, barring catastrophic injuries on the major league roster, Castellanos has no chance to play corner infield in Detroit, so they will stick with him as an outfielder and give him every chance to improve defensively. He is a slow runner and no threat to steal bases in large quantities.
What makes Castellanos special is his bat. Scouts love his swing, projecting that he'll hit for both power and average. He can drive the ball to all fields with plus bat speed, and is not a pure pull hitter. He has few problems with fastballs, but breaking pitches are troublesome at times. Sliders and quality changeups were a huge problem when he reached Double-A, but he made adjustments this spring and was a solid run producer for the Mud Hens. He more than doubled his walk rate compared to what he did at Erie, and did a better job keeping his strikeouts under control. He can be a streaky hitter, alternating extremely productive hot streaks with annoying cold spells when his plate discipline gets away from him.
Castellanos was effective but not dominant in Triple-A, ranking 18th in the International League in OPS and posting a 122 wRC+. His numbers are very solid and very credible for a player his age in Triple-A, although the scouting reports are more effusive than the metrics. He did boost his Isolated Power this season, matching reports that he's tapping into his strength more readily.
If you buy into the concept of lineup protection, Castellanos should have plenty of it with the Tigers. This should enable him to get his feet wet in the majors and make any needed adjustments, without the crushing pressure of being a franchise savior, something that top prospects are often forced to cope with.