3 Ways Nick Castellanos Could Throw a Wrench into Tigers' OF Plans

Brett Kaplan@brettkaplanCorrespondent IIIMarch 8, 2013

3 Ways Nick Castellanos Could Throw a Wrench into Tigers' OF Plans

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    The Detroit Tigers' prospect Nick Castellanos has gotten off to a great start in spring training. He is seeing the ball extremely well and looks like he is the real deal as a prospect.

    Castellanos, who is currently hitting .375 in 20 plate appearances, has been solid defensively in the outfield. In making the transition from third base, he has been playing left field in spring training after learning to play right field last season.

    It appears that the path to the Tigers for Castellanos is in the outfield, due to Miguel Cabrera being entrenched at third base. The more positions Castellanos can play, the better—especially since current left fielder Andy Dirks isn't the type of star player that Castellanos can become. That's not a knock on Dirks, as he looks like he can be a full-time starter. It's more indicative of Castellanos' talent.

    Publicly, the Tigers aren't saying Castellanos could make the Tigers out of spring training. However, they aren't saying he won't either. Here are three ways that Castellanos can force his way onto the Tigers as an outfielder.

Honorable Mention: Display Power

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    The Detroit Tigers' prospect Nick Castellanos has always been able to hit the ball in the minor leagues—that has never been questioned. Yet on the other hand, his power hasn't developed as quickly as his hitting and fielding have.

    While hitting home runs would help to convince the Tigers that he could succeed as a major leaguer now, it's not as critical as other areas where he can prove his worth.

    In three minor league seasons, Castellanos has hit a total of 17 home runs in over 1,000 at-bats. Taking into account that Castellanos is still only 21 years old, chances are the power will develop as he matures.

    According to James Schmehl at MLive.com, Castellanos gained 25 pounds this offseason, which could help him in hitting more home runs.

    If Castellanos does hit more home runs in spring training, that could force the Tigers to re-evaluate whether he is ready for the majors or needs more time at Triple-A.

3. Prove He Can Play Defense

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    Nick Castellanos started out as a third baseman, but is blocked by the Detroit Tigers' third baseman Miguel Cabrera.

    Due to Cabrera's presence, the Tigers switched Castellanos to the outfield last season. According to Jayson Stark from ESPN, Tigers manager Jim Leyland said that Castellanos will play left field during spring training:

    “He will not play third base this spring,” said Jim Leyland. “My orders from the organization are, he’s now a left fielder.”

    Castellanos won't make the team out of spring training on his defense alone. But if he can play the outfield error-free, then the Tigers might need to accelerate the timetable for him to go north to Detroit.

2. Continue to Hit

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    Nick Castellanos' strongest attribute so far in his career is his ability to hit the baseball. In Castellanos' minor league career, he has hit .316 over three seasons.

    While spring training isn't as tough as the regular season, Castellanos can still face major league pitchers.

    By facing major league starting pitchers, the Detroit Tigers can better gauge whether or not Castellanos' hitting is worth the hype.  So far in spring training, the answer is a yes, with Castellanos hitting .400 to date.

    On December 4, Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski explained why Castellanos is thought of so highly by the Tigers organization (via Chris Iott from MLive.com):

    "He's got a nice swing," Dombrowski said. "I think he ran out of gas this year. He had a lot of stuff going on, a lot of expectations attached to him for a youngster. A lot of people focused on him, but this guy can hit."

    Dombrowski said the Tigers are not the only ones bullish on Castellanos.

    "This is just not our reports," he said. "We're talking about a bureau report that you can read that we get. Some people think the guy's going to be an impact bat almost immediately. Those were their words: 'impact bat.' … And quickly."

    If Castellanos can prove to Dombrowski and Tigers manager Jim Leyland that he could hit at the major league level and that his hitting is superior to left fielder Andy Dirks, then it might cause the Tigers to re-think their outfield for 2013.

1. Injury to a Starting Outfielder

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    The Detroit Tigers will want Nick Castellanos to play every day so he can get at-bats and gain the experience. Whether it is at the major league level or Triple-A, it is extremely important for a 21-year-old prospect to gain experience at any level.

    Castellanos can play as well as he wants, but if the Tigers feel that he wouldn't play every day in Detroit, then they'll most likely have him start at Triple-A.

    The one sure-fire way that Castellanos can make the Tigers out of spring training would be an injury to Torii Hunter or Andy Dirks—more so than his hitting or his defense. 

    If one of the two starting outfielders got injured, then Castellanos would get a ticket to the big leagues if he continues to play the way he is currently playing. There is no doubt that Castellanos has the talent, but as strong as his play may be, an injury is the only way that the Tigers would allow him to make the team.

    Either way, Castellanos looks to have a long career in a Tigers uniform. The question mark is whether his arrival will happen sooner rather than later.

    *All statistics are as of March 7

    **All statistics are from baseball-reference.com