There's a good amount of subjectivity regarding baseball prospects. With the evaluation of talent being in the eye of the beholder, finding consensus is often difficult. Even Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo at MLBPipeline.com don't always see eye-to-eye. They'll be discussing their viewpoints regularly in a feature called Pipeline Perspectives. Submit a topic for them to debate.
Some guys can just flat-out hit. They hit as amateurs, they hit in the Minors and you just know they're going to hit in the big leagues. Both of the prospects Jim and I are championing in this edition of Pipeline Perspectives, on which hitting prospect will have the biggest impact in the big leagues in 2014, fit that description perfectly.
Both Oscar Taveras of the Cardinals, ranked No. 2 on MLB.com's Top 100 list, and the Tigers' Nick Castellanos, No. 11 on that list, can and will hit. But who is going to have more of an impact next year? Jim is taking Taveras while I'm putting my chips on Castellanos.
A solid argument can be made that Taveras will contribute in St. Louis in 2014. But given that Carlos Beltran received a free-agent qualifying offer from the Cards and Jon Jay and Matt Holliday aren't going anywhere, in addition to the fact that Taveras played in just 47 games this season, it's safe to say there is a good chance that the young outfielder will see some Triple-A time before reaching the big leagues for good.
Meanwhile, the path seems a little clearer for Castellanos, six months older than the 21-year-old Taveras. With Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter set to return to fill two-thirds of Detroit's outfield, that leaves left field. With all due respect to Andy Dirks and his fans, it's difficult to see how he would be a better option than Castellanos at this point. Having Castellanos in left and Dirks as a fourth outfielder should make the Tigers better.
Opportunity is obviously the first hurdle to clear. Now that we've taken care of that, we can talk about why Castellanos will perform well and just how much he'll hit as a rookie. When Detroit took him in supplemental first round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, he was the team's first pick. The Tigers paid Castellanos $3.45 million to sign, a record for a pick in the sandwich round.
Since then, Castellanos has shown an innate ability to make hard, consistent contact. In his first full season, he led the Midwest League in hits, finishing with a .312 average. In 2012, it was more of the same, as Castellanos reached Double-A at age 20 and hit a combined .320/.365/.451. He was the Futures Game Most Valuable Player to boot.
Castellanos homered in the Futures Game, which is somewhat ironic since that's the one part of his game people wonder about. But I don't. He spent this season in Triple-A, and while his average dipped to .276, he did hit 37 doubles and 18 homers. Castellanos also drew more walks and cut his strikeout rate.
That's a harbinger of things to come. Castellanos will continue to hit for average and improve his on-base skills. The power is going to develop as well. I can easily see him hitting .300 with 20-25 homers annually. Keep in mind, Castellanos will be just 22 years old for all of next season.
Castellanos is a former infielder who made the move to the outfield, with 2013 being his first full season in left (he played 51 games in right field in 2012). He has the ability, on both sides of the ball, to be a prototypical corner outfielder, though it's his bat that his him poised to break into the Tigers' lineup right from the get-go next spring.
Will Castellanos put up the numbers right away? That might be a bit too much to ask. But his ability to square up on the baseball will translate just fine, and I fully expect Castellanos to make a big contribution as an American League Rookie of the Year Award contender for a team that expects to compete in its division every year.