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2018 Player Profile: Nicholas Castellanos

The Curious Case of Nicholas Castellanos

We’re 2,300 plate appearances into the career of Nicholas Castellanos, and it’s odd to think that he is just one month older than Aaron Judge. Despite being around for several years, Castellanos may have found his way in 2017, and the fantasy baseball community is taking notice. He spent the majority of his time at the hot corner last year, but he finished the season in right field. Castellanos took to his new position fairly well, committing only one error is his 20 starts in right field. Now that the Tigers are moving on from manager Brad Ausmus and starting a new but old beginning with Ron Gardenhire, we are not exactly sure where Castellanos will play the majority of his time in 2018. Castellanos has dual eligibility at third base and the outfield in most leagues and should continue to split time between the two positions, as Jeimer Candelario is expected to see time at third base, as well.

Castellanos was always considered a top prospect coming up through the minors. Baseball America ranked him in their top 100 consistently from 2011 all the way through his promotion in 2014. He hit for a high average and showed solid on-base skills, but the power didn’t exactly jump off the page. Castellanos had a combined .804 OPS in his four minor league seasons, leaving plenty of growth at the major league level for a prospect of his caliber.

Late in 2016, Castellanos broke a bone in his hand that forced him to miss most of August and September. Castellanos returned to the Tigers lineup in late September that year and played in only five games to close out the season. Coming off the injury, Castellanos showed little ill effects in 2017, playing in 157 games and hitting a career-high 26 home runs. He also slugged close to .500 for the second season and hit 36 doubles. Castellanos had an incredible 72 extra-base hit season, including a strangely high number of triples (10). Castellanos, fleet of foot? Probably not, but he also isn’t slow by any means. Statcast data has him tied with Eduardo Nunez for sprint speed among third basemen. That sneaky speed may be there, but it has yet to result in many steals over the course of his career. The standout stat for Castellanos hasn’t been how fast he runs on the basepaths, but rather how hard he hits the ball. In 2017, his 43.4% hard-hit rate was fifth-best in all of baseball among qualified hitters.

Castellanos’ hard-hit rate shot up from 35.7% in 2016, suggesting there may be additional growth coming in his power numbers. After all, his slugging percentage increased from .419 to .496 the season prior and, at age 25, he should be entering his power peak. The problem in banking on these future gains is that the rest of his profile hasn’t changed much.

Aside from some small improvements in his contact rate and cutting down a little bit on strikeouts, Castellanos hasn’t changed much in almost four years. So why now the sudden jump in hard-hit rate? Well, after a few hours of digging, I found his home/road hard-contact splits from 2017, which are pretty interesting. Castellanos had a Hard% of 47.8% at home last year and Hard% of just 38.3% on the road. That’s a pretty significant difference, and it reminded me of some rumors from several months ago about how the Tigers’ home-field hit data may be inflated. I dug further and found that Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Alex Avila, and several other Detroit hitters also had higher home hard-hit rates than on the road. By now, my interest was definitely piqued. Further digging eventually led me to this: Detroit’s home ballpark data is a very controversial subject. My findings are more speculative than scientific, but I will leave you some recommended reading for you to draw your own conclusions.

If we don’t trust the hit data from Detroit, then sadly there isn’t much more to get excited about with Castellanos. His plate discipline is borderline awful. His BB/K rate of 0.29 in 2017 was 127th among 144 qualified hitters. Also, his 74% contact rate, which took a step forward last year, still ranks only 114th in that same group.  Iffy plate awareness and suspect bat-to-ball skills will most likely keep Castellanos off most of my fantasy rosters in 2018, especially considering how stacked third base is these days. He is currently being drafted around the 10th or 11th round in 10-team leagues.

In looking ahead to the 218 season, I’m convinced that growth for Castellanos will be less natural and will require a concise adjustment to his plate discipline, swing plane, or pull%. I don’t expect power growth unless he decides to change his launch angle or pull the ball a bit more, both of which would hurt his batting average as a result. He took a tiny step forward in limiting his strikeouts last year, but would he need to drastically change his walk rate at the same time in order to take another step forward? A .270 average with 25 or so home runs seems within reach, but the counting stats could be hard to come by while hitting in the middle of a depleted Tigers lineup and with him lacking the on-base skills required to net many runs scored. Consistency has always been there for Castellanos, but in this case, he may just be consistently average.

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