By: Kurt Snyder & Holly Horning
Let’s set this up for you. Nick Castellanos played shortstop in high school before being drafted by the Tigers and immediately shifted to third base.
Nick played third in the minors until Mike Ilitch, in a mad panic, delivered a pot of gold to the porch of one Mr. Prince Fielder in response to VMart’s season-ending knee injury, totally turning the infield upside down and sending Miguel Cabrera to third base.
So the Tigers, knowing the hitting prowess Nick possessed, had to find a way to keep him moving forward. So he began to play in the outfield as Miggy was going nowhere for the foreseeable future.
In the blink of an eye after 2 years, Prince was gone, Miggy was back at first and the youngster from Florida finally had his chance at third base. That’s when he began to take ground balls at third before he was handed the position with the Tigers in 2014.
So was the jerking around of Castellanos good for him? Has it slowed his development both in the field and at the plate? That’s what one reader wants to know. So let’s put these thoughts together and answer his question.
Are his current issues to this point a result of the Tigers’ decision to convert him from third base to left field and then back to third? (From Pat F.)
Well, Nick Castellanos is no Ben Zobrist. But few are. Zobrist has made his living being able to play multiple positions but he’s so good that I would not call him a utility player. He’s just a guy you can plug in anywhere every day knowing he is going to perform, both offensively and defensively.
That’s what good athletes can do. And here lies the difference. Nick Castellanos does not show a lot of athleticism. And guys who are natural athletes have little trouble tackling different positions or position changes.
Castellanos was drafted as an infielder. He was familiar with playing short in high school and then third in the minors before having to play some outfield so the Tigers could take advantage of his highly publicized ability to hit.
The Tigers held him out of trades because of his hitting prowess. And even though it’s been only two seasons and he is only 23, Nick hasn’t exactly wowed anyone at the plate. And how has he been at third; has he wowed anyone at third? No.
In fact, it’s at the hot corner where you notice his lack of agility, his slow feet, his inability to get himself in position to field the ball and then throw quickly. And when he does throw the ball, he doesn’t exactly have a gun. So there are some concerns there for sure.
But I have explained the reasons why Nick hasn’t exactly burst onto the scene with the Tigers and been proclaimed as one of the future stars of the game. And by no means did a stint in the outfield in the minor leagues set him back to the point where his development has been delayed.
I know I owe him some more time and it’s only been 2 years, but we are still waiting on the guy we didn’t want to trade.
I’d put the blame on VMart because he got hurt which made Mr. I force Dave Dombrowski to sign Prince Fielder, who could only play first base, which bumped Miggy to third and forced Nick to move to left field.
If you read this sentence without laughing, I commend you. It’s so ridiculous to change the paths of multiple players just to accommodate one, not to mention weakening defense at one-third of your positions.
Nick had just barely turned 21 when the Tigers abruptly changed course and moved him to the outfield. It’s hard enough being that young and making your entry into the majors, but to do it playing a position you’ve only practiced for a handful of months and then have to perform on the big stage when your team is vying for the playoffs? That’s one tall order.
I have to commend Nick on handling all of this so well because I do believe he suffered a setback having to change how he plays. It hasn’t been a linear path at all for him.
Even Miggy mentioned how it took him extra time to re-acclimate back to first base last year so why not the same for Nick? The only thing that playing third base and left field have in common is being on the same side of the playing field.
2015 really was more of Nick’s second year given that he came up in September of 2013 so I think the typical sophomore struggles were one factor. Could he also have had just too much on his plate to consider? Having to rebound from being labeled the worst third baseman in the league the previous year and still expected to play – and hit – better, too?
Defensively, his stats overall are better but it’s still telling when he’s consistently removed late in games. He’s shown he’s serious about playing the game with his workouts in the off-season, yet there was a time when a coach said he got “complacent.”
Offensively, his stats are also a mixed bag. Marginally better in some categories and down in some others. His overall performance is getting better but not significantly. Yes, a concern but remember he’s still young and stats show peak performance starts to hit around age 26.
I still see him as an enigma – improving, but not dramatically and clouded by the youth factor and the imposed defensive derailment. And I think the Tigers feel the same way as it’s being reported that JaCoby Jones has started playing third base.