Jim Bowden of ESPN.com recently published an article listing the five prospects most likely to be traded. The article itself is an obvious pageview grab, but he does mention Nick Castellanos of the Detroit Tigers on the list, which got me thinking about the top prospect's future with his current organization.
If I'm the Tigers, I use Castellanos as trade bait this summer to add a key piece to their roster. If they are aggressive early in the summer and are among the first to act, they can make a serious impact on their playoff chances.
The trade market right now isn't terribly strong, with most of the players available for trade having already been moved. Unless the Tigers can work out a deal for Justin Upton, they are probably better off waiting until mid-season.
I should note, I'm not as high on Castellanos as most prospect evaluators are. Don't get me wrong, I think he's a talented prospect capable of doing a lot of things well, but I don't see him becoming an impact player.
Castellanos best tool is his hit tool - the ability to barrel up the baseball, make consistently solid contact, and likely hit over .300. And Castellanos does have that ability.
But none of his other tools come close to matching it.
I worry about prospect's whose only plus tool is their hit tool. It just doesn't always translate into major league success. Dustin Ackley is a good recent example. His best tool was his hitting ability, with the hopes that more power would develop and his defense at second base could get to league average. The power never came, the hit-tool hasn't translated into major league production the way many hopes, and the Mariners are left with a light-hitting second baseman.
The same is not necessarily Castellanos' destiny, but it is in play. Scouts predict 20-to-30 homer power potential from Castellanos, but we just haven't seen it yet. He's never hit more than 10 in a season.
Castellanos' best season came this past year, and was essentially a tale of two seasons. The overall line of .320/.365/.451 looks impressive, but it was split between an amazing .405/.461/.553 run in the Florida State League and a disappointing .264/.296/.382 performance after a promotion to Double-A.
The performance in Double-A is what scares me. It's not that he struggled in his first taste of Double-A. Many hitters do and go on to be just fine. It's what happens when he does.
For most hitters, hitting .264 after a mid-season promotion would be a marginal victory. Additionally, Castellanos showed more power in Double-A - hitting seven home runs in 79 games - than he had yet to do at any level. But we also saw what happens when he doesn't hit over .300 - he makes a ton of outs.
Because Castellanos is such an aggressive hitter, he doesn't draw many walks. His 45 in 2011 were a career high and he drew just 36 between both levels last year. That's ok when he's hitting .320, but when he hits .260 it turns him into Jeff Francoeur, but without the defense.
Without trying to be an alarmist, it's important to realize that this is a real possibility for Castellanos. If he doesn't hit over .300, he will struggle to produce on-base percentages of over .320, making him a serial out-maker at the major league level.
Asking a prospect to hit .300 in order to be an average major leaguer is a tall task, and the fact that so much of Castellanos' value is tied to his bat makes it a long way down if that bat doesn't come through.
Now let's, for argument's sake, say he does hit .300. What if that 20-to-30 homer power doesn't develop?
In his 2011 season, Castellanos hit .312/.367/.436. That's a strong season, and if he doesn't develop more power, it's about the best the Tigers can expect from him. And if he were still a third baseman, and one that played good defense, then that would give him a chance to be a valuable player.
But the Tigers have moved Castellanos to a corner outfield spot, and those numbers aren't going to get it done there. There were questions about his ability to stay at third base even before he was blocked by Miguel Cabrera, but now with his transition into a corner outfielder, his value is almost completely tied to his bat. He's not a terribly fast runner so he won't get much value from his base running, and even if he takes to the outfield well, he won't be much better than average out there. Again, his entire value is tied to his bat.
Which is what scares me.
Since 2006, only two right-handed corner outfielders have hit over .300 with less than 20 home runs, less than 50 walks and less than ten steals. One was Torii Hunter last season, who re-invented himself as a two-hitter and even in his late-30's is a better outfielder than Castellanos will ever be. The other is Reed Johnson from 2006.
I'm afraid that if Castellanos remains in the outfield and doesn't develop the 20-to-30 homer power that some think is in there, that even if he hits .300, he won't be a productive enough player, especially when coupled with average defense and base running, to be anything more than a league average player. If there's a team that thinks he can stay at third base and has room for him there, that would give him a chance to be an above-average player thanks to the scarcity at the position, but as an outfielder, I don't see him being much better than a league-average player.
And if he can't manage to hit .300 in the majors?
Well, just ask Royals fans how they feel about Francoeur.
But Castellanos trade value is still high, and the Tigers need to take advantage of that before the industry perception changes.