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Castellanos may be heart of order, Tigers in '18

MLB.com @beckjason

DETROIT -- Nicholas Castellanos' long-term future in the Motor City remains to be seen as the Tigers embark on a multi-year rebuilding project. In the short term, though, he's one of the reasons to keep an eye on Comerica Park.

On a team that ranges from aging veterans whose best seasons appear to be behind them and young players who will be learning on the job in 2018, Castellanos is one of the few Tigers who falls into the sweet spot. After four seasons of figuring out how to approach big league pitching, he put together his line-drive approach and knowledge of opponents to produce his most impactful season to date.

DETROIT -- Nicholas Castellanos' long-term future in the Motor City remains to be seen as the Tigers embark on a multi-year rebuilding project. In the short term, though, he's one of the reasons to keep an eye on Comerica Park.

On a team that ranges from aging veterans whose best seasons appear to be behind them and young players who will be learning on the job in 2018, Castellanos is one of the few Tigers who falls into the sweet spot. After four seasons of figuring out how to approach big league pitching, he put together his line-drive approach and knowledge of opponents to produce his most impactful season to date.

He's still just 25, with his 26th birthday coming in March. Moreover, go beyond his career-bests of 36 doubles, 10 triples, 26 home runs and 101 RBIs in 2017, and the metrics behind that production suggest he's capable of much more. With J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton gone, Ian Kinsler potentially soon to follow, and Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez coming off injuries, the Tigers need Castellanos' production to be competitive in 2018.

Just 11 Major League players hit more balls than Castellanos with an exit velocity of 95 mph or greater this past season, according to Statcast™, and just nine players had more barreled balls.

Video: DET@KC: Castellanos homers twice, drives in five

Yet, while Castellanos was one of just 12 players with at least 50 barrels in 2017, none had a lower batting average on those barrels than Castellanos, and it wasn't close. He was 34-for-51 (.667); the next-lowest average was .796 from Baltimore's Manny Machado.

Simlarly, while Castellanos posted a hard-hit ball rate of 45.4 percent to rank fifth among Major League hitters according to Fangraphs, his .313 batting average on balls in play was second-lowest among those top five players in hard-hit rate. Only Rangers slugger Joey Gallo (.250) had a lower mark.

The same dichotomy appears when looking at line-drive rate, a ratio in which Castellanos has generally thrived over his career. His 24.5 percent rate according to Fangraphs ranked 10th in the Majors, but his BABIP was third-lowest among those top 10. Considering Castellanos had a better hard-hit rate in 2016 (25.6 percent) and for his career (25.2), he's capable of better. If he gets there, the production could be big.

After four years of being a complementary hitter in a stacked, veteran Tigers lineup, Castellanos' opportunity to be part of the Tigers' core has arrived. After spending much of this season's first half batting second, sixth or seventh in the Tigers' lineup, Castellanos moved to the heart of the order after all the trades, batting third or fourth in tandem with Cabrera. He'll likely have a full season there next year, even if Cabrera and Martinez are healthy.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Detroit Tigers, Nicholas Castellanos