Castellanos could have role with Tigers down stretch

Castellanos could have role with Tigers down stretch

Castellanos could have role with Tigers down stretch
BOSTON -- Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski is known for his lists, both in the offseason and around the non-waiver Trade Deadline. Dombrowski had his list of potentially available right-handed hitters, but few were actually available and they were prohibitively expensive.

That was the story leading up to the Trade Deadline. As far as Dombrowski is concerned, that story is done. The question that will face him shortly is whether the next guy on his list just walked through the door at Fenway Park on Monday.

Nick Castellanos' visit to the Tigers at Fenway was a trip he and fellow Double-A Erie prospect Avisail Garcia made on their own on an off-day in Manchester, N.H. After watching batting practice from the field, Castellanos spent Monday night sitting in the stands amidst Red Sox fans, while Dombrowski stayed on the phones and tried to find an answer to his team's big need.

Dombrowski had enough of a conversation with Castellanos to allay any fears he might be traded at the Deadline. Dombrowski said nothing about whether Castellanos might be promoted. That will be the lingering mystery as the Tigers head into the stretch run fighting to take back the American League Central lead.

"We haven't gotten to that point yet," Dombrowski said Tuesday. "We haven't had those discussions about who we're bringing up, who we're not bringing up, those types of things. We'll wait and we'll see what happens. I'm not saying yes or no. I'm just saying we haven't had those conversations."

It's almost surely going to come up, the way Castellano is hitting.

Castellanos is just 20 years old, but Mike Trout's MVP Award-worthy season with the Angels has changed the perceptions on age. Castellanos began the year at Class A Lakeland, batted .405 in the Florida State League and earned himself a promotion. Add in his .310 average for Double-A Erie entering Friday and he's hitting .359 in his second professional season.

Castellanos is also killing left-handed pitching, going 25-for-55 (.455) with four doubles, a triple, two home runs and just four strikeouts since his promotion to Double-A. The power isn't there yet, but the expectation is that he'll develop that as he matures.

Power or no power, it's enough that Castellanos has had those questions. So have the Tigers' players, who were joking with Castellanos in the visiting clubhouse at Fenway Park on Monday.

"There's been people like these guys saying, 'Oh, get used to it. It'll be your locker in September,' joking around," Castellanos said. "And it's awesome to hear these guys say it, but I know that it's not real until it happens. I'm definitely taking this all in, but I definitely realize that it's a visit. It's not because I deserve to be here."

The season at Double-A Erie wraps up the first week of September. All that's clear after that is Castellanos is expected to head to the Arizona Fall League. That season runs from early October until mid-to-late November. That leaves September open, and the Tigers could always keep him for October if they choose.

"I've heard instructional league is a possibility," Castellanos said. "I've heard if we make the postseason and I keep hitting off lefties, I stay with the team into the postseason. So everything's a possibility, and we're just going to have to wait and see what happens."

That last part raised eyebrows, because it would pretty much make a September callup a given. Castellanos emphasized he hasn't heard anything official, just casual conversations with folks in the organization. But then again, those are the same conversations that led him to get an outfielder's glove and start taking fly balls weeks before the Tigers officially converted him from third base to right field a few weeks ago.

The Tigers had folks watching Castellanos at Erie since his promotion. There weren't just player development officials at these games; there were occasionally Major League scouts as well. It's a similar process they used to evaluate another former top prospect, Cameron Maybin, before they made the sudden decision to promote him to Detroit in mid-August after just six games with Erie.

Maybin replaced Craig Monroe midway through August 2007 and stuck around through the division race, though he was a role player by September. He hit his first Major League homer off Roger Clemens, but he also went 7-for-49 with 21 strikeouts.

A year earlier, the Tigers used their first-round Draft pick on college lefty Andrew Miller, put him through three games at Class A Lakeland, then promoted him to Detroit at the end of August as an extra lefty reliever for the playoff race. He didn't make the postseason roster, but he got 10 1/3 innings over eight games under his belt.

So the precedent is there, and while Dombrowski didn't get into Castellanos' specific situation, he made it clear he wouldn't hesitate to call up a prospect if he thought he could contribute.

"I think when you're in August, your big league club pretty much takes precedent," Dombrowski said. "Most of the development year is done. You've got one more month of development, and if somebody's good enough to help you in a pennant race, I think you give them that opportunity, whoever it may be.

"Now, when I say that, every situation's different. If you're going to bring a relief pitcher up, and he's the 12th guy on the staff and you're not going to use him very much, you're better off probably having that guy stay in the Minors and develop than you would be bringing him up to the big leagues and pitching once every six or seven days and then probably not pitching at his top efficiencies anyway."

In other words, don't expect Castellanos to sit at the end of the dugout as a little-used pinch-hitter. The Tigers have never done that with September callups, to the point that they're conservative with how many players they call up when rosters expand Sept. 1. But meaningful at-bats could be another story, whether as a part-time corner outfielder or their primary right-handed pinch-hitter.

"You always weigh those things," Dombrowski continued. "Those are the same conversations you always have every single year."

This year's conversations will be a little more interesting.

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