With Miguel Cabrera heading back across the diamond to first base, Nick Castellanos is returning from the outfield to his natural position at the hot corner. When the Tigers brought in Prince Fielder, it appeared that Castellanos was completely blocked at the major-league level, so the Tigers tried to transition the 21-year-old to the outfield. With Fielder gone, that problem is a thing of the past.
There’s plenty to like about Castellanos, the top prospect in Detroit’s organization. His bat is very quick through the zone, and there’s never been much of a question among scouts about the quality of his hit tool. His power stroke is showing signs of life, as he has increased his home run total in each of his three full minor-league seasons; he hit seven homers in A-ball in 2011, 11 across three levels in 2012 and 18 in Triple-A last year. Another big positive for Castellanos is the improvement in his contact rate. He struck out in 23.1% of his plate appearances in 2011, followed by 20.2% in 2012 and 16.8% last year.
As much as Castellanos has improved his production in those areas, he’s still one of those guys that scouts love but doesn’t produce big numbers. That elite hit tool that scouts rave about produced a .271 batting average in 213 games between Double-A and Triple-A. The improvement in his power numbers is nice, but 18 dingers from a corner infielder in Triple-A still isn’t exactly eyebrow-raising.
Furthermore, there’s some weird stuff going on in his splits. In short, he’s a completely different hitter against lefties than he is against righties. He’s still a relatively productive hitter against both, as he recorded an .831 on-base plus slugging percentage against lefties last year, compared to a .784 OPS against righties, he just does it in completely different ways.
Facing left-handers, Castellanos is a high on-base, no power guy. Against righties, he profiles as a power hitter with questionable on-base skills. Last year, he slashed .303/.402/.424 against lefties, compared to .269/.328/.454 against right-handers. 16 of his 18 home runs last season came against righties. So did 31 of his 37 doubles.
What this all boils down to from a fantasy perspective is that he could be a bit of a hassle in head-to-head categories leagues. In rotisserie and head-to-head points formats, this won’t really matter, but on weeks the Tigers face lots of lefties, owners can expect a solid batting average and run totals. On righty-heavy weeks, he’ll hit his homers and kick up his runs batted in. This creates a headache for the head-to-head categories league owner; as he produces in different areas in any given week, his effect on your lineup changes. On lefty-heavy weeks, you’ll need to compensate for his lack of power, while on weeks full of righties, his low on-base rate needs to be balanced out.
Finally, I’m just not a big fan of gambling on guys like Castellanos in redraft leagues. I don’t like to roll the dice on a scouts’ darling who hasn’t shown it in the box scores yet. He’s getting a lot of fantasy love because he’s a top prospect in a solid lineup, and should have plenty of opportunities to pick up runs and RBI with guys like Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter around. He just hasn’t shown the power required to be a solid fantasy asset at third base; if he was a threat to steal bases or hit .320, it would be a different story, but I simply don’t see Castellanos hitting for enough power to be relevant in mixed leagues in 2014.
Projection systems are by no means a bible, but they are a nice resource for setting your expectations at a reasonable level. Steamer and Oliver have nearly identical projections for Castellanos’ 2014 season; Steamer projects a .265/.313/.401 line with 12 homers, with Oliver at .265/.313/.407 with 14 homers. That’s essentially Nolan Arenado’s 2013 with more strikeouts.
I love Castellanos as a prospect and expect him to be an above-average major-league regular for many years, but when it comes to rolling the dice on prospects in redraft leagues, I prefer the guys with elite production in the minors to a work-in-progress like Castellanos. Once he gets more consistent with his on-base skills and proves that he has the power to hit 20+ homers in the majors, he’ll be a no-doubt fantasy starter at the hot corner. I’m just not very confident that 2014 will be the year that happens.
Scott Strandberg started writing for Rotographs in 2013. He works in small business consultation, and he also writes A&E columns for The Norman Transcript newspaper. Scott lives in Seattle, WA.