Why Nick Castellanos Is Hyped as MLB's Next Great Hitting Star

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Why Nick Castellanos Is Hyped as MLB's Next Great Hitting Star

In the flurry of September call-ups that took place over the weekend, the most notable came from Detroit, with the Tigers promoting top prospect Nick Castellanos from Triple-A Toledo for the stretch run. 

Castellanos actually had his MLB debut on Sunday in Detroit's 4-0 loss against the Cleveland Indians, pinch hitting for Don Kelly in the seventh inning and playing left field the rest of the game. It was an uneventful start, as he flew out to right field and grounded out to short in his two at-bats. 

But don't let that fool you because the future is incredibly bright for the 21-year-old Castellanos, who was taken by the Tigers with the 44th pick in the 2010 draft out of Archbishop McCarthy High School in Florida

Rather than just tell you Castellanos has the potential to be a star hitter in the middle of Detroit's lineup for the next decade, we are going to give you an in-depth look at what makes him so special. 

 

The Calling Card: Castellanos' Natural Feel for Hitting

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

There are certain players you will see on a baseball field who were so obviously born to do something—throw a 98 mph fastball, hit home runs, etc.—it makes the rest of us feel bad for not being able to do it. 

Nick Castellanos was born to hit baseballs. He is just 21 years old, but has an innate ability to square up the ball and drive it to all fields. It takes most players years to develop the kind of hit tool Castellanos currently has. 

Castellanos' Triple-A stat line this season (.276/.343/.450, 18 HRs, 100 Ks, 54 BBs, 533 at-bats) may not jump off the page, but when you put it in proper context by noting he was the second-youngest player in the International League when the season started, things look a little better. 

As my fellow Bleacher Report prospect guru, Mike Rosenbaum, noted in his Midseason Top 50, which listed Castellanos as the No. 15 prospect, Castellano's swing does not need a lot of work. 

Pure hitter with highly advanced bat-to-ball skills; ability to consistently barrel the ball; natural inside-out swing with lots of power to right-center field; quick hands and bat speed; loose wrists and a fluid swing; lots of extension after contact but not a lofty swing.

With the exception of St. Louis' Oscar Taveras and Boston's Xander Bogaerts, there isn't a better pure hitter among this year's prospect crop. 

You can see in the GIF embedded below that Castellanos is able to generate his power with fast hands that explode through the zone. 

Castellanos also doesn't have much extraneous movement in his quick-twitch swing. He starts with a wide base, has virtually no load and barely lifts his left lead foot off the ground before swinging. Those simple mechanics will help Castellanos stay on top of the better velocity he will see in the big leagues. 

Courtesy of Baseball Instinct

Because Castellanos controls the bat so well and has developed enough confidence to take pitches, he won't take a lot of walks, but his hit tool projects as plus-plus and will keep his OBP at well above-average levels. 

 

The Question Mark

Since no prospect is perfect, it is imperative that we also talk about the holes in Castellanos' game. We will address his defense shortly, but the big thing we want to mention in this spot is power. 

Castellanos was drafted as a third baseman and played there for the first three years of his professional career before the Tigers moved him to the outfield because he was on the fast track to the big leagues and Miguel Cabrera plays third base. 

In order to project as an above-average (or better) player in a corner outfield spot, you have to hit for a lot of power.

Castellanos has the first part down, as we talked about. No one questions his ability to hit a baseball. But when you break down his swing, as well as his frame, there are some doubts about how much pop the 21-year-old will have. 

Rosenbaum likes Castellanos' chances to develop more power the more he plays in the big leagues and learns to read pitchers. 

Power should continue to develop as he gains more experience at higher levels; should always be an extra-base machine; prone to chasing sliders low and off the plate; has barrel control to be an above-average hitter in the major leagues; noticeably improved approach and pitch recognition this season at Triple-A. 

Typically to generate power, the lower half is going to be instrumental in the swing because it is easier to drive the ball with hips and legs. You can also generate some thump with a hand load, though if you have too much going on with your lower body and hands, it can slow you down and lead to a lot of strikeouts. 

There are players who can get away without using their lower half. Kris Bryant, who was drafted by the Chicago Cubs with the second pick in June's draft, takes virtually no stride but gets plus-plus pop with a powerful upper half and strong hands. 

Via Steve Fiorindo, Bullpen Banter

Since there isn't a lot of movement to Castellanos' long, wiry frame, he may not generate more than average over-the-fence power. Don't be surprised if he turns into a doubles hitter with 15 to 18 home runs. 

If the Tigers could get that out of Castellanos, there is no doubt they would be thrilled. But if the former first-round pick could find a way to translate that sweet swing into 25 homers, his ceiling would go from above-average starter to All-Star. 

 

Playing The Field

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Castellanos' defense is hard to discuss. Not because we don't know what he can do, but because the Tigers have really done him a disservice by taking him off third base and into left field. 

Since he's only been playing the position a little less than a year, Castellanos has a long way to go before projecting even as an average defender. 

The physical tools are there for Castellanos to be a solid glove in left. His arm strength and accuracy are above-average; he's a very good athlete with the versatility to play multiple positions.

But as Mark Anderson and Brett Sayre of Baseball Prospectus noted, Castellanos doesn't know how to read the ball off the bat. Furthermore, "His routes still need considerable work and most scouts are skeptical of his ability to become anything better than a fringe-average defender."

However, just because Castellanos has the ability to be a left fielder doesn't mean it is the best spot for him. The Tigers may have slowed his development on offense a little bit this year because he had to learn a new position. 

It also doesn't make sense to move Castellanos off third base. He projected as an above-average defender there with good actions, soft hands and arm strength/accuracy. 

Where will Nick Castellanos be most valuable to the Tigers?

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The Tigers made the move under the assumption that Miguel Cabrera is capable of handling third base in the future. Yet just using the eye test, you can tell that isn't the case.

If you need statistical proof, Fangraphs has Cabrera ranked as the worst defensive third baseman in the AL and costing the team 16 runs with the glove. 

At his worst, Castellanos would have been an average defender at third base and worth a lot more to the Tigers at the position than Cabrera. 

Since there doesn't appear to be a move back to third happening soon, Castellanos will have to keep working on his left-field defense and hopefully get comfortable enough to be as close to average as possible because there isn't much more upside than that. 

 

The Ceiling

Even with the likelihood of fringy defense, Castellanos has the ceiling of an All-Star because his bat is that good. Not being able to hit for a ton of power doesn't concern me as much with him as it might for others because his other hitting skills are so good and well-developed. 

Castellanos should have no problem posting slash lines in the .300/.370/.470 range in another year. Pitchers will be able to get him out right now with good breaking balls down and away, but once he adjusts to those, the sky is the limit. 

The Tigers believed in Castellanos enough to start him at Triple-A this season after hitting .264/.296/.382 in 79 games with Double-A Erie in 2012. He rewarded that confidence with a strong season in Toledo that ended with a month-long tryout in the middle of a pennant race. 

 

If you want to talk baseball, feel free to hit me up on Twitter with questions or comments. 

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