LAKELAND, Fla. -- Ron Gardenhire missed out on managing J.D. Martinez with the Tigers by a half-season. He missed out on the slugging outfielder's rise from Minor League signing to Major League All-Star. But thanks to Gardenhire's stint last year as bench coach with the D-backs, he had the chance
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Ron Gardenhire missed out on managing J.D. Martinez with the Tigers by a half-season. He missed out on the slugging outfielder's rise from Minor League signing to Major League All-Star. But thanks to Gardenhire's stint last year as bench coach with the D-backs, he had the chance to coach Martinez for the stretch run and the playoffs.
It wasn't a long stretch, but it was long enough to get an idea of how Martinez competes. As Gardenhire has gotten to know Nicholas Castellanos this Spring Training, he sees similarities.
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"Just being around him, the intensity, I'm telling you, it's the same," Gardenhire said. "Those two, I don't know if they hung around together, but it's the same. It's the same drive. They both have this drive. It's pretty cool.
"Nick comes up to me about a lot of different things. We've had some good conversations. He's pretty fired up about this stuff, and that's kind of the way J.D. was. So he probably had a good mentor."
It wasn't quite that relationship. Still, the competitiveness and baseball instincts bear resemblance, even if Martinez and Castellanos take different routes to get there.
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"On the surface it can be similar, but the way J.D. goes about baseball and the way I go about baseball are polar opposites," Castellanos said. "I haven't done one hitting drill since I've been here. J.D. does 17 a day ... ."
Nevertheless, Castellanos will still gladly take the comparison.
"He just got a $110 million contract and hit  homers after missing a month," Castellanos said. "Absolutely I'm going to take that compliment. He's a heck of a baseball player."
Their career paths share some common ground. Both grew up in South Florida and had lofty expectations as young hitters. While Martinez had to change organizations to find his identity as a hitter, going from Houston to Detroit, Castellanos is finding his with the team that drafted and developed him.
Thanks to a shift to right field, Castellanos now mans the position Martinez occupied in Detroit for the better part of four seasons. He has also essentially assumed Martinez's old spot in the middle of the Tigers' order. Like Martinez last year, Castellanos has a defensive branding to overcome in right. But like Martinez, Castellanos has a right-handed power swing that can send home runs out to right-center field.
"I'm pretty sure of myself, of how I feel and the keys that I want to focus on in the batter's box," Castellanos said. "Let the rest take care of itself, really."
With free agency potentially two years away, Castellanos is on an upward trajectory as a hitter. Even with 36 doubles, 10 triples (most in the AL), 26 home runs and 101 RBIs last year, his exit velocity and launch angle data made a case he was shortchanged. And like Martinez, that emergence could eventually lead the Tigers to entertain trade interest in Castellanos, trying to stockpile prospects for a rebuilding project that will likely last beyond the point he could hit the market.
So far, Castellanos has shown every sign of picking up where he left off last September. He nearly hit the bar atop the left-field berm Thursday with his solo homer off Braves lefty Sean Newcomb, his second home run of the spring. He nearly homered again in Friday's 8-3 win over the Marlins, but settled for an RBI single off the right-field fence against starter Zac Gallen.
There hasn't been a major adjustment, he said. He's simply locked in on his approach.
"To be honest, I kind of feel comfortable in all aspects of the game right now," Castellanos said. "Obviously, I'm not saying I've peaked or I can't get better, but I love playing outfield, I love hitting. I'm kind of in a good spot."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.