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Castellanos overshadowed in Tigers camp, for now

Castellanos overshadowed in Tigers camp, for now play video for Castellanos overshadowed in Tigers camp, for now

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- No matter how many home runs Nick Castellanos hits in a Tigers uniform during his career, his first is going to end up being a footnote. He's perfectly fine with that.

First, it's Spring Training, and few people remember Spring Training home runs unless they were there. Second, Castellanos' drive over the right-center-field fence at Bright House Field came an inning before Miguel Cabrera nearly hit one into the Gulf of Mexico.

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"Yeah, I think I got outshined a little bit," Castellanos said with a chuckle, "but that's a good person to get outshined by. I hit a home run. That guy hit a moon shot."

At least one person will remember it -- the same person who was yelling like crazy when Castellanos was introduced his first time up against Cliff Lee.

While most of Castellanos' family was watching him on MLB Network, his grandfather Leonard Beard was in the stands. He's the reason it was a big deal for Castellanos when the Tigers drafted him three years ago.

Beard is a retired Detroit firefighter staying in Florida this spring. A Michigander at heart, he passed on his Tigers ties to his daughter, Castellanos' mother. He is also clearly a Michigander in voice, sounding like a one-man cheering section.

"That's my grandfather," Castellanos said. "He's got enough to sound like 10 people."

Castellanos grew up in South Florida as a Marlins fan, idolizing Cabrera. This was the first time he had the chance to get upstaged by his hero in the same game.

Yet as Cabrera tried to deflect the attention from his own efforts, he made sure Castellanos was not ignored.

"I think [home runs are] going to come with time, with experience, with the at-bats he's going to get," Cabrera said. "I think when he finds his swing every day, consistent, he's going to be good. He's very good right now."

Castellanos' two-run home run looked like a traditional Cabrera homer, a lofty opposite-field shot that kept carrying. It looked more like something Castellanos would do against a left-hander, but it actually came off Jonathan Papelbon, the Phillies' right-handed closer.

That wasn't something he picked up from Cabrera. That, he said, he picked up from his dad.

"My dad is a left-handed thrower," Castellanos explained. "He pitched to me left-handed, so I grew up hitting [against] left-handers. That's why I think I have an inside-out swing and I hit the ball the other way so well, because in order to have success off lefties, you have to hit it right back where it came from, and that's the other way.

"My batting practice, even when I was little growing up, everything was the other way, the other way, and that's why I think I'm able to do that well now."

What Castellanos said he marvels about Cabrera is how he can put the barrel of the bat on the ball no matter where the pitch is located. It's why his swing can look so effortless.

"He's on time every pitch," Castellanos said. "I ask him questions when I have some little [questions], but most of the learning I have from Miguel is just by watching him every day."

Cabrera doesn't want Castellanos saddled with any comparison. He said they've talked more preparation than pure hitting.

"We kind of talk about more what I do at home plate. I say sometimes I see the sequence, how they pitch me, so I've got more of an idea what they're going to do to me. But I tell him in the Minor Leagues, it's hard to do that, because you don't face the same guys every time.

"So what I say to him is go out there and try to be himself, try to be Castellanos, because he's very good. He's got a lot of potential."

He has arguably the highest potential in the Tigers system, which is why he's their highest-rated prospect. Yet he might face the toughest road to the big leagues of all the top prospects in Tigers camp. His longtime teammate, Bruce Rondon, has a very good chance to claim the closer job. His friend Avisail Garcia could end up claiming platoon time in left field, depending on what the Tigers decide is best for his future.

In theory, Castellanos is contending for that same role in left. While Garcia became a late-season hero in Detroit as a September callup last year, Castellanos has yet to get to the big leagues. It would take a herculean performance this spring to get him there out of camp, big enough to push Castellanos past a part-time role and into regular starts.

Whether he has a real shot or not, he's going to get a chance to show what he's got. One of the first things manager Jim Leyland told reporters Monday morning was that Castellanos would play all nine innings.

"I want to see him in left field for a whole game," Leyland said beforehand.

Castellanos handled himself there well, making two putouts without a miscue.

Leyland won't work Castellanos at his old position at third base, not even after Cabrera leaves for the World Baseball Classic, but will work him in left as much as he can.

Castellanos will take that. And while he isn't trying to say he's fighting for a job right now, he's isn't ruling anything out. He'll take a fight to get into the conversation.

"I wouldn't say if I don't make the team, I fail," Castellanos said, "because I just want to play as well as I can to make a good impression so that down the road, if need be, he remembers my name because I had a good spring."

He already made the impression. As Leyland walked away from his pregame session with reporters, his parting remark was enough to show he won't be overshadowed that much longer.

"He's a big leaguer in the making, I'll say that," Leyland said.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. 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.

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{"event":["prospect" ,"spring_training" ] }
{"event":["prospect" ,"spring_training" ] }