Detroit Tigers prospect Nick Castellanos is the epitome of what scouts term a "projectable" player.
Castellanos, the Tigers' top prospect according to MLB.com, currently has characteristics and skills that signal an outstanding future as a Major League hitter. He has the talent and tools to hit for average and power, enough speed to steal bases, and a strong and accurate arm. Perhaps, the least advanced of his tools is his overall defensive ability, but that can change quickly in his development program.
In short, he's a good player right now. But he's likely to be a very good player with experience and physical maturity.
I watched Castellanos play in this year's Arizona Fall League. He projects to be an impact hitter with power potential and an ability to drive in runs.
Castellanos was the Tigers' first-round Supplemental pick (No. 44 overall) in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. He was selected after graduating from Archbishop McCarthy High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where he played shortstop. He hit .542 in his senior year, and was the recipient of countless awards and national recognition.
To become eligible for the Draft, Castellanos turned down an opportunity to play at the University of Miami.
Detroit drafted the 6-foot-4, 210-pound right-handed hitting Castellanos as a third baseman. But the presence of All-Stars Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder at third base and first base, respectively, influenced the Tigers to convert Castellanos to the outfield.
After having played third base for the first season and a half of his professional career, Castellanos began playing the outfield midway during this past season. He played 51 games in right field for Double-A Erie, and made only two errors in 101 chances.
Continuing his transition to the outfield, Castellanos played 21 games in left field and three games in right for the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League. He made no errors.
When I first saw Castellanos in batting practice this fall, something didn't look quite right.
It dawned on me quickly: He wasn't wearing batting gloves. I can't remember the last player I saw hit without batting gloves.
Castellanos told me that after scuffling at the plate for a brief period of time at West Michigan in Low Class A, his dad suggested he return to the way he always used to hit -- without wearing batting gloves. Castellanos agreed.
He finished hitting .312 at West Michigan, and he hasn't worn batting gloves since.
This past season, at age 20 and in only his second full season as a professional (he played in seven games in the Rookie League in 2010), Castellanos was promoted to Lakeland in High Class A. He hit a staggering .405 in 243 plate appearances there, with three home runs and 32 RBIs. He struck out only 42 times.
His great first half at Lakeland earned him a promotion to Double-A Erie in the Eastern League, where Castellanos was greeted with higher quality pitching by older players. He hit .264 with seven homers and 25 RBIs at the same time he was converting to the outfield.
Castellanos has a lot in common with Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich, who like Castellanos is a Florida high school prospect. Yelich was drafted by the Marlins in the first round in the same draft as Castellanos. Like Castellanos, Yelich is making the transition to the outfield and also turned down an opportunity to attend the University of Miami.
Like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, the careers of Yelich and Castellanos may be viewed in tandem.
Physically, Castellanos has long arms and long legs that, at times, make him appear a bit gangly. He's only 20-years old. I believe he will add both weight and muscle definition to his frame. Once his physical development is complete and he "grows into his body," his power should improve.
This fall, using quick hands and good reactions, I saw Castellanos square up fastballs and drive them into the outfield gaps. Of his 24 hits in 99 fall at-bats, six were doubles and one was a home run.
I saw an ability to drive the outside fastball, using his long arms to cover the outside of the plate.
However, I often saw Castellanos fooled by breaking pitches. He didn't recognize the pitch quickly enough, and either swung and missed or took the pitches for strikes. He struck out 31 times. It is an area of concern.
Overall this fall, Castellanos hit .242. He walked 10 times and had an on-base percentage of .309.
It is difficult for a young player to concentrate on improving hitting mechanics against higher quality pitching while also making a position transition. Moving from third base to the outfield requires a different set of mechanical skills. Repetition and practice before games and in game conditions is crucial. The high fall Arizona sky can make life miserable for an outfielder.
Castellanos, however, handled playing the outfield very well. He got good reads off the bat on balls hit in the air. In general, he took good routes and showed enough arm strength and accuracy to play either corner outfield position. He has enough speed and ability to become an average quality Major League corner outfielder.
Given his youth and inexperience, Castellanos has shown the raw tools of an impact hitter. In his brief Minor League career, he has a composite batting average of .316.
It is likely the addition of Torii Hunter to the Tigers' outfield will give Castellanos time to experience a complete and thorough skill and physical development.
Castellanos projects to become the type of middle-of-the-order hitter that can produce runs and change games with one swing of the bat. Now, all he needs is time to hone his skills against increasingly better quality pitching.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter.