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Alex Castellanos, Potential Bench Option

Last summer, the Dodgers traded longtime shortstop Rafael Furcal to the Cardinals, hoping to get something out of their oft-injured star before he reached free agency. Furcal was not only a useful cog on the St. Louis march to the championship, he’s been the best shortstop in the National League so far in 2012. The Dodgers, meanwhile, were left to fill shortstop with the overmatched Dee Gordon, who is almost certainly only still in the majors because the club simply has no viable alternatives to turn to.

Yet the Dodgers didn’t come away completely empty-handed, picking up 25-year-old Alex Castellanos in exchange for Furcal. Castellanos was crushing the ball for Double-A Springfield at the time of the trade – .319/.379/.562 (.411 wOBA) – and has continued to do damage since joining the Dodger organization, putting up a .361/.465/.711 (.493 wOBA) line for Triple-A Albuquerque this year that doesn’t even feature the usual massive home/road splits you’ll generally see from Isotope players. While the hit tool seems to be for real, Castellanos has never been seen as being on the fast track to the bigs, held back by questionable place discipline (411/122 K/BB in parts of five seasons) and an uncertain future on defense, since he’s shuttled from third base to right field to second base over the last several years.

Castellanos would have almost certainly been among those called up in April as the Dodgers suffered through a variety of injuries, but a strained hamstring on April 24 sidelined him for nearly a month; now, with Matt Kemp headed back to the disabled list and Castellanos once again healthy, he’s finally received the call. It remains to be seen exactly how he fits into the lineup, since his transition to second base was reportedly going well, and the Dodgers are without regular second baseman Mark Ellis through at least the All-Star Break thanks to a serious leg injury. However, Castellanos’ move to second is still a work in progress, and manager Don Mattingly indicated that he’ll likely use Castellanos mainly as an outfielder for now, preferring to stick with Elian Herrera, Ivan De Jesus, & Jerry Hairston at second base.

If true, that hurts Castellanos’ fantasy value considerably. Second base is a wretched position for fantasy purposes, particularly with the recent news of Dustin Pedroia‘s hand injury. You’ve either got one of the big shots – the guys like Dan Uggla, Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler, and a few others – or you’re wondering just when or if players like Rickie Weeks, Ben Zobrist, & Dustin Ackley are going to turn it on. Really, take a quick look at the sub-10% ownership level of second basemen in ESPN leagues, won’t you? That’s where you’re looking at Nick Punto, Ryan Theriot, Adam Kennedy – who honestly might all be the same person – or those like them, in which case, you might be better served by just leaving the position empty entirely. Castellanos would have more than enough bat to be a valuable piece at second, but if he’s to mainly be an outfielder for now, that’s a much higher bar to clear.

Still, he’s likely to see a considerable amount of playing time in the outfield corners, since without Kemp the three main starters for the Dodgers are lefties Bobby Abreu, Tony Gwynn, & Andre Ethier. (Juan Rivera is expected to be activated from the disabled list this weekend and will be in the mix as well, though he’s also going to be needed to spell James Loney at first base, assuming Scott Van Slyke goes down to make room for Rivera.) Simply being a righty will get Castellanos a fair amount of at-bats, and he is expected to be in the lineup on Friday, playing left field against lefty Josh Outman.

Castellanos won’t come close to replicating that .493 wOBA in the bigs, and the modest gains he’s made in plate discipline over the last two years may not travel with him to Los Angeles either. (ESPN’s Keith Law suggests that you ignore his high-altitude PCL stats, in which case you’re still left with an interesting offensive prospect.) But it’s not his bat which has kept him out of the big leagues so far, it’s his glove, and fantasy players need not spend too much time worrying about his defense. As an outfielder, he’s a reasonably intriguing pickup, especially in NL-only leagues, and that value would only increase if he can somehow get enough games in at second to become eligible there.