You saw Castellanos' breakout coming, right?


We really shouldn't be surprised at Nick Castellanos's hot start in 2016. The scouting prophets foretold this many years ago, and the extra shots of hype syrup early on probably soured some fans when Castellanos didn't turn into an All Star his very first year in the majors. People, am I right? We set up some impossible expectations sometimes, and don't always practice patience.

Castellanos just turned 24 about two months ago. He made his big full-time debut with the Tigers two years ago, when he was barely 22 years old. In the two seasons that followed, the guy that the scouts had pegged as a "plus-plus hitter" with "potentially plus power" failed to bat over .260, or to crack the .750 OPS mark.

Let's hit the pause button for just a second and talk about what all this "plus power" and "plus plus hitter" jargon means. In the scouting world, players are ranked on a scale from 20-80, usually working in increments of 10 (though sometimes they use increments of five). A rank of 20 is awful, a rank of 50 is considered average, and a rank of 80 is "elite." If 50 is "average," then 60 is "plus," or above-average. A 70 rank is two above average, or "plus plus," getting nearer to elite territory.

So think about that for a minute. In ranking Nick Castellanos as a hitter -- generally speaking, his ability to hit the ball, make contact, his bat speed, the swing mechanics, etc. -- every scouting report I've read had him at "plus plus," or a 70 ranking. That has always been his big selling point, the fact that he's a pure hitter who everyone projected would hit for high batting average, with the possibility of 60-grade power.

Some of these scouting reports even used words like "future star," or "All Star potential." We're looking at a guy who has a legitimate shot at hitting .300 or above, with just enough power to touch 20-25 home runs and maybe flirt with an .800 to .900 OPS. He's certainly shown flashes of that in the first part of 2016 -- as I write this, he's sitting on a .361 batting average (best in the American League) and a .961 OPS. Yes, those numbers will come back to earth, but there's no reason to think he'll finish below .260/.750 like he did in 2014 and 2015.

It's all about the age. In baseball years, 24 is still pretty young, considering most players don't come into their "prime years" until they're 26 or 27. This year and next year are when Castellanos will really begin to settle into the player the scouts predicted he'd become. He'll get more consistent, not less. And in the years after that, when he's 26, 27, 28 years old? That's when we'll be talking about the All Star.

Defensively, the projected outlook isn't as good. In the scouting reports I read, words like "average at best," or "fringe-average" were used. That's the bad news. The good news is that, comparatively speaking, he's gotten better in each of the two years he's played at the MLB level. In 2014, he was worth an atrocious -30 Defensive Runs Saved at third base. In 2015, he bumped that up to -9 DRS, which is still not good, but at least it's not -30. As of this writing, his 2016 season is grading out at -5 DRS. The hope is that he can get to "average at best" levels, closer to a zero DRS level.

I have a theory, and you're free to consider it late some Friday night, with or without the help of alcohol or recreational substances. Castellanos has been so overwhelmed the past two years just getting his hitting into a normal groove, he hasn't had a chance to really focus on improving his defense. These things sort of go together, and really, it's true for all of us: when you've got too many things coming at you at once, you end up being mediocre at everything, and good at nothing.

As his hitting abilities begin to mature this year, that will be one less thing to distract him during games, and I think he'll find it much easier to just zero in on his defense once he's no longer having to over-analyze every plate appearance. He'll get better at third base. He won't win any gold gloves, but he should at least continue to improve until he reaches zero-sum, average levels of play.

Was it The Great Benching Incident of 2015, when Brad Ausmus kept Castellanos out of a starting role for three straight games in mid-June, that kick-started his offensive turn-about? Maybe. Who can tell? Since that incident, he's slashing .300/.265/.509 with a .773 OPS, 15 home runs and 65 RBI.

When I spoke with Castellanos in January of 2016 about the potential issue of conflicting coaching styles at the different minor league levels, he did admit that there are "a lot of different hitting philosophies out there," so perhaps it was just a matter of getting two years of MLB experience under his belt with consistent coaching.

However you explain it, the numbers don't lie, and the scouting projections indicate that what we're seeing is no fluke. Nick Castellanos is about to break out, and we're watching it as it happens.
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