When Nick Castellanos agreed to a four-year, $64 million contract with the Reds ahead of the 2020 season, he had no idea how much things would change. But he did know he could control his own destiny via a pair of opt-outs after both the 2020 and 2021 seasons.
He decided to return to Cincinnati for 2020, but after a stellar 2021 campaign, the 29-year-old right fielder has opted out with two years and $34 million left on the deal to become a free agent.
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Here’s what you need to know about Castellanos:
Birthdate: March 4, 1992 (Age 30 in 2022)
Primary position: RF
Height/weight: 6-foot-4, 203 pounds
Place of birth: Hialeah, Fla.
School: Archbishop McCarthy HS (Fla.)
Drafted: 1st round (No. 44 overall), 2010, by Tigers
MLB debut: Sept. 1, 2013
Qualifying offer: Received one; declined
STAT TO KNOW
.576 -- That was Castellanos’ slugging percentage this season, the third best mark in the National League behind only Bryce Harper and Fernando Tatis Jr., players who both signed lucrative long-term contracts worth north of $300 million.
This is nothing new for Castellanos, who has ranked among the top 11 percent of all qualified batters in expected slugging percentage (xSLG) in each of the last six seasons.
Will there be a universal DH in 2022 and beyond? If so, it’s hard to think of many players who would benefit more than Castellanos, who continues to boast an electric bat but carries long-term concerns about his outfield play.
A perennial All-Star
Castellanos received the opportunity to not only represent the NL in the 2021 All-Star Game, but also start the game in right field after a sensational first half.
“I can’t say for everybody, but for me -- that’s what I play for is the love and respect of the people who pay to come watch me play, as well as all my friends and family that have been with me from the start,” Castellanos said at the time. “To everybody who has been a part of my ride, you know, thank you.”
It was a wonderful recognition for Castellanos, who took his game to the next level and now leads all batters in doubles (189) while ranking third in total bases (1,346) since the start of the 2017 season.
His numbers could have been even better
Castellanos suffered a right wrist microfracture on July 16, an injury which occurred during the middle of a difficult stretch where the hard-hitting righty needed to make adjustments against offspeed and breaking pitches.
After two weeks on the mend he hit just .176 (6-for-34) with a .675 OPS through his first 10 games before closing August with a .315 (17-for-54) average and a .925 OPS through his final 14 games. He put a bow on his 2021 campaign by hitting .283 (30-for-106) with a .950 OPS in September and October.
It’s not hard to imagine how much more impressive his full-season stats could have been if Castellanos could have remained in the lineup and made the necessary adjustments without a stint on the IL interrupting the middle of his year.
He’s still finding ways to improve at the plate
As mentioned above, Castellanos has been one of the game’s better hitters since the 2017 season. And yet, he managed to improve significantly at the plate in a number of areas, proving that shortcomings in his abbreviated 2020 season were more a case of bad luck than anything else.
The Reds outfielder was 18th out of 176 qualified hitters this season in terms of positive improvement in year-to-year strikeout percentage (from 28.5% to 20.7%), while his sweet spot percentage improved to 44%, the second-best mark among 132 qualified batters, behind only teammate Joey Votto. Both the approach and quality of contact increased Castellanos' effectiveness throughout each of his at-bats as he posted career highs in xwOBA while behind in the count (.303) and when facing two strikes (.276).
He’s become a spark plug and clubhouse leader
More than 1,000 games into his MLB career, Castellanos has become a player who is experienced enough to be considered a veteran leader while still playing the game with the intensity of a rookie looking to earn his spot.
He was a part of the best amateur team ever
Castellanos’ All-Star selection and collection of accolades have been years in the making after he first appeared on the radar as an amateur star more than 10 years ago. The Florida native won a gold medal with USA Baseball in the 2009 Pan American Junior Championships alongside teammates Bryce Harper, Jameson Taillon and Manny Machado, the top three picks respectively, in the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft -- as part of what may be considered the best amateur baseball team ever assembled.