Post-Hype Prospect Alert: Nick Castellanos
Ah, post-hype prospects: one of the best opportunities for dynasty owners to get a leg up on their competition. You know these guys, they often come to the big leagues too soon and take a few years to get accustomed to Major League pitching. After two or three of those so-so years, owners in search of The Next Big Thing in dynasty leagues often leave behind top prospects. Nick Castellanos definitely falls in that bucket. Despite being just five months older than Maikel Franco and two months younger than uber-prospect Kris Bryant, Castellanos came into the year having been all but written off in many dynasty leagues. Even in redraft leagues, owners weren’t expecting much growth, as he was getting drafted as the 20th third baseman off the board according to NFBC’s ADP.
After a brief cup of coffee in 2013, Castellanos made his Opening Day debut in 2014 as the Tigers’ third baseman at the tender age of 22 years old. He held his own in his first full season, slashing .259/.306/.394. Entering 2015, fantasy owners were expecting a big jump in production, but Castellanos only gave them a small hop” aside from the four additional homeruns he hit – 15 total – his numbers were very similar to 2014’s, ranking him just 35th among his third base counterparts per ESPN’s Player Rater.
The first week of 2016 looked like more of the same. Except then he started raking, collecting hits in all but three of his next 24 games. Castellanos also started to show some of the power fantasy owners had been waiting for, hitting six home runs during that span, and racking up solid counting stats hitting in the middle of a solid Detroit batting order. Through the seventh week of the season Castellanos has been in the top ten among third basemen in hits, homers, and RBI, providing a huge early return on investment for those who hung with him.
Now what fantasy owners need to know is, will this continue? The doubters will point to the most glaring stat on Castellanos’ early season resume; his BABIP. Through May 22nd, he was sitting with an unsustainable .393 batting average on balls in play. Even with the improvements in his batted-ball profile, which I’ll touch on in a bit, Castellanos is unlikely to be able to maintain such an otherworldly BABIP. But if Castellanos can continue to provide the power he has shown that might not matter. His hit tool was lauded as one of the best in the minor leagues as a prospect, but looks like it’s just starting to show after two seasons of a sub-.260 batting average.
He does show the ingredients of an above-average BABIP guy, though. To it: the batted-ball profile! He currently ranks near the top of the league in line-drive percentage. Though he’s avoided soft contact with the best of him, his exit velocity hasn’t been effected as much as his owners would like to see. The early results are similar to last year, though they have been close to matching some of his higher months from last season. Defensive alignment changes haven’t slowed down Castellanos either, as he’s had significant success against the few shifts he’s seen, hitting over .600 when his opponents shift against him. He’s seen less shifts than an average hitter, and that is likely to continue given the success.
With the rise in line drives, Castellanos has also bumped his fly balls considerably, both of which led him to have the second-lowest groundball percentage in the majors. These aren’t your garden-variety fly balls either, as Castellanos’ average batted-ball distance has placed him near the top ten in all of baseball, and has led to his gaudy power numbers early in the season. Eno Sarris wrote a great piece about his launch angle changes this season, as well, which breaks down the batted ball succeses. Though this pace may not be sustainable, if Castellanos keeps lifting fly balls and maintains his improved launch angle, he has the raw power to end the season in the ballpark of 25 homeruns.
Pitchers have attacked Castellanos moderately more often in the zone so far, and he’s made slightly more contact overall on the strikes he’s offered at. The biggest change he’s seen in his batted ball profile has been contact on pitches outside of the zone, where he’s making contact on over 10 percent more pitches off the plate. He’s hitting fewer liners on outside pitches than in the zone, but still generating good contact on a decent amount of them. That’s not always the best thing, but even his diminished line drive rate on outside pitches relative to his other contact is still quite high by league-wide standards.
Overall, it looks as if there have been some promising changes early in the season for Castellanos. Even with his BABIP normalizing a bit (if it does), the added line drives and improved launch angle can still boost Castellanos’ batting average closer to .290. That would be where many scouts thought he would hit around when they ranked his hit tool as one of the tops in the minors in previous years. His power display early this season may be for real too, and if he continues to hit more balls in the air and maintains his batted-ball distance, there’s a good chance a fair share of them are going to leave the yard. Even with a .280 average, Castellanos power, and potential for solid counting stats hitting in the middle of the Tigers order, has him working his way into the top ten among major league third basemen in fantasy leagues. And, at just 24 years old, dynasty owners who have stuck with Castellanos are going to start seeing their patience pay off in a big way.