(Originally featured in the New Hampshire Union Leader)
MANCHESTER - Batting practice and infield/outfield drills had ended 15 minutes ago, but there he was, still in position in right field at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium shagging fly balls.
This is just a small sample of why Nick Castellanos is the Detroit Tigers’ top prospect.
“He’s got it,” said Erie SeaWolves manager Chris Cron before his team’s series opener with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats on Tuesday. “He’s got the dedication you need and you’ve gotta have that word in your dictionary when they write up a report on you. His work ethic has stepped up tremendously with the move.”
The “move” that Cron is referring to is the one the Tigers made when they elected to turn the 20-year-old third baseman, the 2010 Gatorade Florida Baseball Player of the Year, and 44th overall selection in the 2010 MLB Draft into the organization’s right fielder of the future.
As it turns out, the two guys Detroit has at the corners right now (All-Stars Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder) don’t look like they’ll be relocated any time soon.
“This is something new for him and he’s not stupid. He knows why it’s taking place, but it’s all good; it’s all positive,” said Cron, in his second year managing the SeaWolves. “He wants to be good, he wants to get better, and he wants to help the Detroit Tigers be a good team. Nick wants all these things and we know it too; so as an organization we’re trying to do as much as we can to help him along, but the game is what he needs to continue to play. He needs to keep getting reps both offensively and defensively and time will tell if and when he’s ready.”
The converted-outfielder certainly looks to be on his way to being ready and the position change hasn’t affected his offense a bit. Castellanos, a wiry but strong presence at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, is batting .312 in his first 20 games since making the switch.
The likelihood of Castellanos getting the call up to the parent club when rosters expand on September 1 is up in the air, but the slugger got his first taste of the big leagues on Monday when he and fellow outfielder Avisail Garcia took a trip down Route 93 in a taxi to watch the Tigers take on the Boston Red Sox.
“It was kind of a last minute, spur of the moment thing,” said Castellanos, who was promoted to Erie after torching High-A Lakeland with a .405 average in 55 games. “It was awesome to be in that atmosphere. That’s everything you want to be and when you’re there seeing it, it becomes real. Obviously if I do get called up, just the experience, whether I play or don’t play would be unbelievable.”
Castellanos, who just a few weeks ago was named the Futures Game MVP after hitting a homer and singling twice in the U.S. team’s 17-5 victory over the World team, spent batting practice chatting it up with his big league role models before retreating to the grandstands to enjoy all that Fenway has to offer for the first time.
“I gotta believe being around the big league atmosphere is invaluable and it’s just another part of growing into a ball player,” Cron said. “Just by the way the big leaguers act and react to certain situations; and then there’s 40,000 people in Boston at Fenway Park on a Monday night. It’s a big deal. It’s not New Hampshire with 2,000 people in the stands. It was good for him to get a taste of that.”
While Castellanos was determined to see the Green Monster for the first time, part of his off-day trip to Boston was to see where he stood with the organization, less than 24 hours before Major League Baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline.
Last week, Detroit further adopted its “win-now” strategy by trading top pitching prospect Jacob Turner to the Miami Marlins for pitcher Anibal Sanchez and infielder Omar Infante. Naturally, Castellanos was worried he could be next.
“Everything is always a possibility because the Tigers need to win now, so everybody was saying a hundred different things but nobody knew what would happen,” he said. “When I went down there I talked to (Tigers GM Dave) Dombrowski and he said they were all in agreement that they didn’t want to trade me and they definitely see me wearing a Detroit Tigers uniform whether it’s in the outfield or at third.”
When Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline passed and he didn’t receive a call with bad news, an ease came over both he and Cron.
“It was a huge relief for all of us,” said the manager. “(The Tigers) made the big move with Turner last week so we weren’t sure what was going to happen with Nick.”
“It was more just a sign of not having to worry about it anymore,” said Castellanos. “Not that I was really stressing about it, but just everyday I was hearing something new. I’m just glad it’s going to die down now.”
The Tigers wrap up their final series of the season with the Red Sox tonight, but keep your eyes peeled for when Detroit comes to town in 2013.
You might just see the next big thing hanging around Pesky’s Pole, ready to leave his mark on the game.