Blocked no more, talented youngsters ready to shine
Tigers' Castellanos, Rangers' Profar among those with apparent clear paths to bigs
Dave Dombrowski and Jon Daniels pulled off one whale of a baseball trade this week. The Tigers and Rangers general managers swapped Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler to fill respective needs on the field. At the same time, they organized a shifting of finances that worked for both teams' winter plans, and got everyone huddling around the Hot Stove talking baseball.
But guess what?
Nick Castellanos and Jurickson Profar might have been happier about the trade than anyone else.
Castellanos is the third baseman in the Tigers system who now appears to have a clear path to a starting job at the hot corner if he has a respectable spring. The same goes for Profar, the talented 20-year-old who filled a utility role for Texas this year but seems to have second base locked up now that Kinsler has moved to southern Michigan.
Both young players appear to cleared what can be a significant obstacle: the organizational block.
Sometimes, prospects have to wait before getting a chance to show what they can do in the big leagues. Sometimes it's for a good reason. Sometimes it's a mistake by the club. It's difficult to know which it is until the player gets to play a 162-game slate.
And sometimes, it's because there's an established Major Leaguer playing their position on the big club, standing in their way.
Castellanos and Profar aren't the only ones who might finally see the light of 500 or 600 at-bats next season, but they're a good place to start.
The smart thinking regarding Castellanos is that Fielder's departure will enable the Tigers' incumbent third baseman, two-time reigning American League Most Valuable Player Miguel Cabrera, to shift back to first base. Castellanos, a first-round selection in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft as a third baseman, played outfield the past season and a half, but it seems likely that Detroit, which has high hopes for 21-year-old, will pencil him in as the 2014 starting third baseman.
That could very well be the case, but Dombrowski has been mum on the matter.
"That's a question for discussion between a lot of people at this point," Dombrowski said in the wake of the trade. "I don't really know that answer. He hasn't played there in over a year. He did continue to take ground balls at third base on a consistent basis for us."
Either way, the Tigers figure to get Castellanos' bat in the lineup in some way, shape or form. He put up a .276/.343/.450 line with 18 home runs and 76 RBIs for Triple-A Toledo this year. Then he put together a brief, 5-for-18 stint with Detroit.
"I would anticipate he could move quickly, depending on what we decided to do," Dombrowski said.
As for Profar, it's a lot safer to say he'll be a second-base fixture in manager Ron Washington's immediate future, barring some eye-opening move later this offseason, like a Robinson Cano signing or another big-ticket trade.
Profar was MLB.com's top-ranked prospect and got a decent look at the Major League level in 2013, hitting .234/.308/.336 in 85 games. Then again, he was shuttled around from starting to sitting on the bench and from one position to another. The 37 games he played for Round Rock was the first time he'd touched Triple-A.
He's strong, he's fast and the Rangers see him having a bright future. That future begins next spring.
"Our organization feels as good about him as we did 12 months ago," Daniels said earlier in the offseason when he was asked about who might be traded to clear up the infield logjam. "I sense the industry does, too."
Three other players who are no longer blocked were free and clear and highly visible late in the season and helped their teams in October.
One was Indians right-hander Danny Salazar, who hits the mid-to-high 90s on the radar gun and made it to the Majors in the second half of the season, as Cleveland decided to take a look at him and see what they had. They saw a 23-year-old who pitched to a 3.12 ERA while striking out 65 batters in 52 innings and was so trusted that they gave him the ball in the Wild Card Game against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Salazar took the loss in that game, but if free-agent starters Ubaldo Jimenez and/or Scott Kazmir sign with other clubs, Salazar, barring injury or a major reversal of form in Spring Training, should be part of Cleveland's starting rotation.
Meanwhile, Matt Adams of the Cardinals and Xander Bogaerts of the Red Sox are in line for similar clear passage come spring.
Both played their way onto playoff and then World Series rosters, both got full-time at-bats in the biggest games of the year, and now both have roster renovations going in their favor.
Carlos Beltran is a free agent, and his departure from St. Louis (possibly to the Red Sox) could enable the team to move Allen Craig from first base to right field, opening up first for Adams, who hit 17 home runs in 296 at-bats, had an .839 OPS and homered in the National League Division Series.
"He's a good hitter, and he's learning," Cardinals hitting coach John Mabry said. "He's still very young. He's got a bright future ahead of him."
And so does Bogaerts, who took over third base for the Red Sox during the AL Championship Series and helped his team to a World Series ring at the age of 21 -- all while playing away from his natural position of shortstop. With starting shortstop Stephen Drew on the free-agent market, Bogaerts might very well have that slot locked up for years to come. Or he could stay at third base if the Red Sox land another shortstop or decide to deal their other third baseman, Will Middlebrooks. Either way, Bogaerts, blocked no more, figures to be a starter in 2014.
"The sky is the limit for him," Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia said during the World Series. "And him getting this experience and playing on this stage, it's only going to help him down the road. He's going to take over a leadership role, too, soon."