Who is Nick Castellanos?
The Detroit Tigers made some serious adjustments to a team that was in the World Series in 2012 and on the verge of the World Series in 2013. Each of those will be analyzed below, but first it is important to look at what the Tigers did add this season in the way of Nick Castellanos. The first round pick for the Tigers in 2010 has progressed very rapidly through the minors and the soon to be 22 year old was already planned to be a part of the major league roster for the Tigers in 2014, but the transactions of the offseason accelerated the game plan for Castellanos with the Tigers.
The original plan for Castellanos was for him to make the team and potentially play left field, rather than third base which is his position of choice where he is a pretty good fielder; blocked by two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera at third base with Prince Fielder at first. The lack of potential for the future of Fielder sent him to Texas, Cabrera to first, and now the Tigers are ready to see if Castellanos is worth the lofty prospect rankings and the potential future at third.
So what can the Tigers get from Castellanos? First off, they get a much better defensive third baseman. Now the Tigers will not be getting the next Brooks Robinson at third, but his above average arm and range is a marked improvement over Miguel Cabrera’s balky third base defense over the past two seasons. In fact, Cabrera is a somewhat decent first baseman and that will help the Tigers as well. The real calling card for Castellanos, though, is his hitting. It would be foolish to believe that Castellanos will be as good in 2014 or even 2015 as Fielder is at the plate, but the upside is absolutely there and the Tigers are wise to look into it.
During the 2012 season, Castellanos had a fantastic statistical season at High-A Lakeland but he had a lot of hidden statistics that may have shown that it was a bit of a fluke, chiefly that a lot of his stats went down while in Double-A Erie and that his BABIP was absolutely ridiculously high (.486). Although his numbers plateaued a bit in Triple-A Toledo in 2013, when combined with his numbers in Erie in 2012, he showed that the double power that he had in Lakeland could translate to home runs, as he hit 18 last year. Also, he bettered his strikeout and walk rates from High-A while rising his isolated power. The difference between the .405 average in Florida and the .276 average in Ohio was the BABIP, which was at .307 last year.
The easiest conclusion to derive from this data is that Castellanos may be a bit dependent on BABIP to be an elite hitter, but the Tigers have to like a hitter than has been in the 35 double, 15 home run range in the minors over the past two years. As he continues to lower his strikeout rate, Castellanos should be able to be trusted in the Tigers lineup as a .280-.290 hitter that frequently challenges for the doubles crown in the AL and gives the Tigers a solid middle of the order contributor. For the 2014 season, he will be one of the key competitors for the Rookie of the Year title.
When will the Tigers realize that they made a mistake in trading Doug Fister?
The Tigers had a very solid rotation last year that could lead the team into 2014 and the future when they decided to make a the second of their major moves, trading Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals. Before we can analyze what the Tigers have lost, we must look at who they are going to fill the void left by Fister with. Drew Smyly was a starter in the major leagues and came up with the Tigers in 2012 as a starter as well and he actually did a pretty good job as a starter in the 18 starts that he had. The Tigers were a competing team, though, and the team added Anibal Sanchez to the rotation, put Smyly in the bullpen and he led the team to the World Series as a shut down lefty out of the bullpen. His versatility was huge for the team and could have continued to be a great tool for the team going into the future, but the team decided that there was more value out of Smyly than that of a late inning reliever and a swing man starter.
The Tigers found a better use for Smyly in the rotation and added a couple more prospects in trading Doug Fister to the Nationals. Fister was a price controlled innings eater with a fantastic ground ball rate that would have played up more with the much improved infield defense. He was arbitration eligible in 2015 but for a 30 year old pitcher that stood to make $7.2 million, the Tigers would have gotten a lot of production out of Fister for a very respectable price in 2014.
What the Tigers got in the trade will make the difference. The Tigers traded for flexibility and a change of pace. Steve Lombardozzi may not be a great player, but he can play all over the infield and outfield, is young, and is a cheap movable piece if need be. Every winning team has a super utility player that can fill in the gaps that occur throughout the season; Lomardozzi may not be a big contributor with his bat or glove during the 2014 season, but his ability to play almost anywhere on the diamond will allow other players to take a night off and keep them fresh. Ian Krol will now fill the role that Drew Smyly once had in the bullpen, albeit without the ability that Smyly has. Krol was solid in his first 9 appearances of his big league career with the Nationals, only allowing 3 hits and striking out 12, but once the league had seen him a bit his final appearances drove his ERA up to 3.95. He can also provide length, as he was a starter in the minors, so yet again the Tigers opted for versatility rather than filling a void.
The crown jewel of the trade was Robbie Ray, a top 10 left handed prospect in baseball. After a rough go at the Carolina League with High-A Potomac in 2012, Ray righted the ship in between Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg this past year, lowering his ERA back into the mid-3 range while boosting his strikeout rate in Potomac. There was a bit of a dip in strikeout rate and a slight uptick in ERA while in Harrisburg, but he lowered his walk rate, a good sign for a pitcher with a walk rate in the 4’s. He could join the Tigers during this season if needed, but he is a good insurance policy for the future.
This is where it gets a bit curious for the Tigers; it is a bad omen for the future of Rick Porcello in Detroit, that’s obvious, but what if this means that the Tigers do not feel good about signing Max Scherzer? The Tigers would have been in a good place in 2014 as they were constituted before the trades of Fielder and Fister, but the Tigers may be scared for the future. The trade of Fielder will be dissected below, but the trade of Fister was really just a way for the Tigers to have insurance for if they lose one of their aces. The Tigers would prefer a rotation that includes both Scherzer and Ray in the future, but the lack of high level minor league pitching talent made it necessary to get a young arm for Fister this offseason before they were left trying to pick up the pieces in the future. Yes, Scherzer is not a free agent until 2015 and the Tigers may have been able to win a World Series with Fister in tow this season, but the Tigers needed to get something for the future and Robbie Ray could be a very solid pitcher.
The important thing for the Tigers to do this season is to not get caught up in the potential success of Fister, but rather remember the larger plan. To sufficiently analyze this trade, we need to look at the future. This trade was a shrewd decision by the Tigers to create a bit more viability for the future and a rotation with Scherzer, Verlander, Sanchez, Smyly, and Ray in 2016 would be outstanding. In 2014, the Tigers are relying on their other advantages (lineup, top 3 pitchers in the rotation) and hoping that the playoffs would be a certainty even without Fister. This is risky business, but if it works out, the Tigers could be very happy with this trade.
How will Brad Ausmus impact the 2014 Tigers?
Amongst all of the the changes that the Tigers made, the most interesting one may be is that they no longer have the steady hand of Jim Leyland and now have Brad Ausmus at the helm. Conventional wisdom in baseball is that former catchers may extremely good managers and throughout his career, Brad Ausmus was the type of catcher that was a game manager and was very cognitive in the way he called a game. This cognitive approach will be brought on to the Tigers and it may be considerable addition to the team.
The Tigers as a team may be moving in a different direction all together, as they had previously been a slow, clunky power hitting team. When you look down the lineup and see Ian Kinsler, Jose Iglesias, Austin Jackson, and Andy Dirks or Rajai Davis, you see guys that are not prototypical power hitters, but rather hitters that can affect the game on the bases and with small ball. Brad Ausmus may be able to help change the team for the better and make them more pliable in the future. Ausmus was seen as an elite catcher in intellect and in playing small and he will be able to bring that to the Tigers.
Where this is made even better is that there is the MVP of baseball in Miguel Cabrera in the middle of the lineup. Ian Kinsler and Torii Hunter must buy into Ausmus’ philosophies in front of Cabrera and there may be even more opportunities for run production in the lineup. The analysis of the Tigers has looked into a lot of the trades that the Tigers have made and each of the two trades made by the team, as well as the signing of Rajai Davis, were to cater to Ausmus’ style. Defense and base running will be more important and the a utility player like Steve Lomardozzi should also open up opportunities for Ausmus to use his bench more often. This team will look a lot different during the 2014 season and if they are able to adhere to the new philosophies of Ausmus it will continue to breed success in Detroit.
What were the Tigers thinking when they traded Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler?
In 2012, the Tigers made a bold move, signing Prince Fielder for $200+ million with the vision of making a playoff team even better. A World Series appearance and ALCS appearance later, Fielder’s lack of production led the team to trade him to the Texas Rangers for Ian Kinsler. It is critical to look first at what the Tigers traded. Prince Fielder is a monster of a man and his power numbers and durability were the key reasons that the Tigers were ready to ink him to the $214 million, 9 year contract that they signed him to right before Spring Training 2012. His two seasons in Detroit were insignificant if not unspectacular. Both years he played 162 games and knocked in over 100 runs, but the 50 home run seasons looked very much a thing of the past, as he hit 30 home runs in 2012 and only 25 in 2013.
In 2012, Fielder was a .300 hitter for the first time and did have more walks than strikeouts, but after a bad year at the plate, a lack of power, and continued poor defensive play, the Tigers cashed in their chips with Fielder and walked away from the table. Most of Fielder’s contract will be covered by the Rangers and the power alleys at the Ballpark in Arlington should help Fielder greatly. As for what the Tigers got in return for Fielder, Ian Kinsler, albeit a great player in his own right, might not even be the best asset received in the trade. As alluded to earlier in the Fister and Ausmus pieces, the Tigers are all about flexibility this year; this trait will also be held by the front office. Joe Nathan may have been a bit of a luxury grab for the team, even though the Tigers desperately needed a closer and their bullpen is a bit of a mess, but other than that the Tigers wanted to be able to keep the team that they have.
Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera are locked up and the Tigers wanted to be able to do the same with Max Scherzer, something that could only happen with a trade of Prince Fielder. Internally, and wisely at that, the Tigers decided that keeping Scherzer was more important than keeping Fielder so they moved Fielder. If financial flexibility were the only thing that the Tigers got in the trade, that would have been a win. The fact that they were also able to get an All-Star at a premium position is even better. Ian Kinsler may be a very streaky hitter and may not have that high of an average for a hitter at the top of the lineup, but he does bring a power-speed combination to a position that normally does not produce power. A two-time 30 home run/30 steal player, Kinsler will bring a different element to the Tigers from the top of the lineup.
The Tigers should be excited to have a versatile power hitter at the top of the lineup. Over the past five years, he has been above a league average power hitter and has had nearly as many walks as strikeouts a season. Kinsler may be a bit of a downgrade on Fielder, but when you evaluate the fact that the Tigers were able to get Fielder’s massive contract off of the books, the Tigers have to be happy with the trade.
Why are the Tigers going to win 89 games?
The lineup is not very deep other than Miguel Cabrera and the bullpen is not very deep other than Joe Nathan. It is as simple as this. If Nick Castellanos and Bruce Rondon can play big parts in their new respective roles and if the Tigers make me VERY wrong and come out ok in the Kinsler-Fielder trade, then this is a team well on its way to 95 wins. At this point in time, those are huge ifs, so much so that huge expectations for the 2014 Tigers should be tempered.
This is not reason to fear for the future of the Tigers. As this preview has gone over many times, the Tigers made some serious organizational moves this year and there will be some growing pains. This is the type of team that just needs to make it to the playoffs, where in a short series the strength of the upper third of the rotation and the antics of Miguel Cabrera can make them extremely dangerous.
This is a team that needed to prepare itself for the future rather than win 100 games in 2014 and then hope that everything would be ok. Doug Fister would have been a free agent right after Scherzer and if he continued to pitch well, he would have asked for big time money, especially if the Tigers had paid Scherzer nine figures in 2015. Prince Fielder was also an albatross of a contract and the Tigers needed to dump that to correctly function. These were the fact of business and the Tigers may have set themselves up better for the future with the trades that they made, even if it hurts the 2014 season.
5 You Know:
1. Miguel Cabrera
2. Justin Verlander
3. Prince Fielder
4. Torii Hunter
5. Victor Martinez
5 You Will Know:
1. Bruce Rondon
2. Nick Castellanos
3. Drew Smyly
4. James McCann
5. Corey Knebel
5 You Should Remember:
1. Jake Thompson
2. Jonathan Crawford
3. Robbie Ray
4. Devon Travis
5. Steven Moya
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