Castellanos primed for breakout

Tigers' third baseman hopes to build off productive second half in 2015

Castellanos primed for breakout

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The setup suggests this should be the year for Nick Castellanos. For the Tigers to get a bigger contribution from young players, they need this to be his year.

Once among the top prospects in baseball, Castellanos heads into his third full Major League season having just turned 24 years old. With Daniel Norris expected to open the season on the disabled list, Castellanos will be the youngest player on the Tigers' Opening Day roster for a third consecutive season.

He will be coming off a season in which he posted an .800 OPS after the All-Star break, behind only Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler and J.D. Martinez.

Castellanos heads into likely his final season before arbitration eligibility, a threshold that sometimes leads teams to make long-term evaluations on players.

He falls into the area between the star-studded middle of Detroit's batting order and the lower third, which has struggled in recent years. He's in prime position for RBI opportunities whether he has J.D. Martinez or Justin Upton in front of him, but he'll likely have second-year catcher James McCann batting behind him.

When general manager Al Avila was asked about the positives he took from the disappointing 2015 season at the end, Castellanos was near the top of the list.

"I always said: Find me a guy who could give you better numbers that can play third base, at his age, the cost effectiveness that he brings, the numbers that he's put up, the improvement defensively," Avila said. "I know people criticize him, but it's mind-boggling when you look out there and say who can be better and at what cost."

For all the focus on the Tigers' big-contract players and the need for them to produce, Detroit's payroll situation means it has to get production from lower-salaried players to have balance. With J.D. Martinez now well into arbitration, Castellanos falls squarely into that category this year.

The challenge is not only to carry that momentum, but to put together a full, productive season -- not just at the plate, but in the field, where defensive metrics have not been kind.

It's the defensive side where manager Brad Ausmus has been focused with Castellanos.

"I'm not worried about Nick's bat," Ausmus said. "I think Nick is going to hit. I want to see the defense. I want to see the concentration every pitch. For the most part, that's what we've seen. He's had a good energy level on defense, which is what I want to see."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.