KANSAS CITY -- Nick Castellanos had been getting hints he could be going to the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game as early as Spring Training. As the best hitting prospect to come through the Tigers farm system in years, it was almost a given. That he'd walk away with the Larry Doby Most Valuable Player Award on Sunday may have been a little less expected.
"It still hasn't sunk in that I won the MVP at the Futures Game," Castellanos said following his three-hit, three-run, three-RBI performance to help the United States team cruise to a 17-5 win over the World. "I'm just going to try to enjoy every moment of this ... this feeling, because it's a good one."
After striking out to lead off the third inning, Castellanos reached base in his next four plate appearances, playing the entire game as the team's designated hitter. He walked and scored in the fourth inning as the U.S. took the lead for the first time. He singled to lead off what would be a nine-run sixth inning, scoring the first of those nine runs, then capping off the inning with a three-run home run. He finished his game with a single in the seventh.
"It was a two-strike swing, I was only trying to protect," Castellanos said of the homer. "I knew he was going to throw something hard because he did sink that fastball by me I think the pitch before. I spread out a little bit, let the ball get deep, maybe go the other way. But [the pitch] kind of got in, so I got the good part of the bat on the ball and it just managed to go out."
Castellanos joins a list of former MVPs like Alfonso Soriano, Jose Reyes, Grady Sizemore, Aaron Hill and Billy Butler, all of whom went on to be Major League All-Stars. Only 2000 MVP Sean Burroughs matched Castellanos' three hits.
"I'm so proud of him," said fellow Tigers prospect and Futures Gamer Rob Brantly. "That's my brother over there. To see him have that sort of success, it lifts my spirits. It's great to finally be playing with him. I got excited when I got to play with him one day in Double-A and then I got moved up. But when we're in the lineup together, I don't know what it is, man. It's just something kind of electrifies him, and we get it going."
Brantly got it going, too, more of a surprise Futures Gamer than Castellanos, a late replacement for the injured Travis d'Arnaud. Brantly doubled in Castellanos in that huge sixth inning, putting the U.S. Team in command. He also threw out Cardinals prospect Oscar Taveras trying to steal.
"I don't know if anybody realized it, but as soon as I saw he wasn't going to catch it, I put it in fifth gear because I wanted to get him an RBI," Castellanos said of the Brantly double. "Me and Brantly have been hitting right next to each other since 2010 instructional league. We've been driving each other in ever since. Hopefully we can make the big leagues together, because we're going to be doing that for a long time."
Bruce Rondon also represented the Tigers well, coming into the game in the eighth inning for the World Team and hitting 102 mph with his first pitch. His next, and final, three, were all clocked at 101 mph.
In the end, though, it was really Castellanos' show. His home run was hit to center field, an approximate 406 feet away. Coming out of high school, the 2010 draftee got high grades for raw power. That's often the last thing to come for a prospect, and although Castellanos has hit everywhere he's gone so far -- leading the Midwest League in hits in 2011 and hitting .371 across two levels this year -- the power numbers haven't shown up just yet. It's not something that overly concerns him and he was able to flex his muscles on the biggest stage a prospect has.
"With good swings on good pitches, home runs are going to come," Castellanos said. "You start worrying about them, [you get into trouble].
"I think the biggest thing that I'm happy with is that, as big of the stage that I was set on, with as many good players that are here, I was able to just remember my game and just stay within myself, stay with my old routine, stay with what I do good, which is just hitting line drives, getting base hits. [I] don't think just because I hit a home run I tried to press or do anything different in this game. It just happened to go out."
Because it did, Castellanos' bat will have a special place in history. The Baseball Hall of Fame will take it to Cooperstown, a fact that Castellanos had a hard time believing.
"The bat's probably the coolest thing ever," Castellanos said. "That's right up there with playing in this game. I don't even think I've taken that in yet, that the bat I used is going to Cooperstown. I went to Cooperstown when I was 12 ... the names that are in Cooperstown, and that my bat's going to Cooperstown, saying that out loud is pretty cool."