Pump the Brakes on Nick Castellanos

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.

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Scott Strandberg is a writer by day and musician by night. He is the film critic for The Norman Transcript, and his baseball writing has been featured at The Hardball Times and MLBDepthCharts. He enjoys cooking and professional wrestling. Follow him on Twitter @ScottStrandberg.

13 Responses to “Pump the Brakes on Nick Castellanos”

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  1. Matt says:

    I don’t know what a Strandberg is but this is highly sensationalized.

    The idea is right but very exaggerated. Firstly, we’re talking a measly 96 plate appearances against lefties! This is FG!

    Secondly, a 121 ISO versus lefties. .185 versus righties.

    Thirdly, I can’t find his walk rate against righties nor how many times he was HBP but back of envelope math shows it to be about 8%. Or about average. Hardly Yuni.

    Not sure what this article is.

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    • 2013 wasn’t some sort of outlier. To speak to your small sample-size argument, looking back at 2012 in Double-A, he hit all but one of his seven homers off righties and drew just nine walks against them. You’re right about his walk rate against righties last year, it was 7.8%, but on-base ability is more than just drawing walks. A .328 OBP is not impressive. Finally, a 64-point differential in his ISO is pretty significant. That’s solidly above-average against righties, solidly below-average against lefties.

      As for what a Strandberg is, I can’t really help you there. I’ve been one my whole life and I haven’t quite put my finger on it yet.

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      • Matt says:

        Fair enough and thank you for a well thought response!

        For more on what a Sandberg is, here you go: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=sandberg

        Ouch. Tough way to find out!

        You were using the slash and OPS from last year in your piece without referencing the split information in 2012 or 2011. So I was just pointing that out with the 96 plate appearances.

        As for the .328 OBP, that has a lot to do with the .269 BA! The walk rate is more important than the OBP if we’re trying to determine his on base ability. With just OBP you have to first look at his BA – BABIP, batted ball profile, etc. So it’s best to just look at walk rate.

        A .64 differential in ISO is big. My point was that a .121 ISO in 96 plate appearances doesn’t seem to be nearly enough to proclaim him a “no power guy”, which is the exact phrase the article used.

        Like I said, I think the gist of your article is spot on. I just don’t think you can come across as it being so definitive without losing some credibilty as an unbiased analyst. I didn’t feel like I could accept the summation of the article based on the data presented and used.

        Just my $0.02.

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      • Scott Strandberg says:

        Thanks for the input, Matt! I’m quickly realizing that the answer to the question “Which of these stats should I include in the article?” is “All of them.”

        Also, Castellanos actually had 113 plate appearances against lefties last year, and I think we all know that 112 PA is the definitive turning point between small sample-size and absolute certainty!

        Regarding the Sandberg, thank God I have that ‘tr’ in my last name to save me from that. Poor Ryno…

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  2. crazyfox says:

    Hitting in a strong lineup doesn’t guarantee good counting stats. There is some reason to expect a different balance of stats versus lefties than versus righties. Guys with elite production are preferred to a work in progress. A 21-year old who has barely played in the majors is questionable as a fantasy starter next season. Does this about sum up the revelations?

    Speaking of revelations, you might want to reconsider how many of his homers and doubles came from the right side of the plate.

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    • Scott Strandberg says:

      “Speaking of revelations, you might want to reconsider how many of his homers and doubles came from the right side of the plate.” – You might be thinking of a different player, Castellanos is not a switch-hitter…

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  3. CM52 says:

    Is he really getting much hype in redraft leagues?

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    • Scott Strandberg says:

      Believe it or not, the inspiration for writing this was hearing unadulterated Castellanos love from a well-known fantasy analyst. I’m not going to say who, but suffice it to say that the answer to your question is “Yes.”

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  4. Kenneth Hohbach says:

    “16 of his 18 home runs last season came from the right side of the plate. So did 31 of his 37 doubles.”

    This implies to me that he is a switch hitter, which he is not. All of his home runs, doubles, etc. came from the right side of the plate.

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  5. Josh says:

    Something to keep in mind: Toledo, Detroit’s AAA affiliate, is considered a graveyard for hitters. The International League already is nothing like the PCL, so he gets some credit here.

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  6. Matt says:

    Thanks for spelling out OPS on first reference

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