For part one of the feature, follow the link here.
Professional scouts rarely pull punches when it comes to giving an evaluation of a young player. The early reports from scouts that have seen Nick Castellanos in right field have not been kind, and my own personal observations this week have provoked some curious facial expressions.
"He tracks the ball poorly right now," said an NL scout. "He doesn't catch the ball properly and he will have to alter his throwing motion. I think he's athletic enough to pull it off, but this isn't expediting his arrival in the majors."
There is no doubt that Castellanos is extremely rough in the outfield. If you focus on him during the game, he freezes when the ball is put in play. He is still learning how to read the ball off the bat and make the correct first step. His delayed start further hinders his range because he is a below-average runner as well. As he develops the ability to take off running after the ball quickly, he should have average range for a corner outfielder, but that range will take a while to evolve.
While it should be expected, Castellanos still catches and throws like an infielder. He doesn't position himself under the ball properly and though you can see him working hard to change his throwing mechanics, he still defaults to a quicker infield arm action than the longer outfield motion.
"He has some work to do out there," noted Dombrowski. "There's no doubt that he has to develop in the outfield, but we think he is a good enough athlete to figure it out and get there."
Castellanos has already spent time working with people at every level of the Tigers organization, including roving instructors Gene Roof and Kevin Bradshaw, in addition to all of his daily work with Cron and Martin at Erie. The Tigers are also planning additional support to his development, including conversations with former Tiger great Al Kaline.
The work will be intensive and will require significant dedication, but the scouts I have spoken with match my own observations that Castellanos can eventually be a solid outfield defender at the Major League level.
The Way Ahead
In many instances, when a player is moved down the defensive spectrum, the appearance on the surface is that the move will somehow accelerate the player's timetable to the big leagues. When combined with earlier quotes about the presence of Cabrera, Fielder and Martinez, it could look like the Tigers are trying to push Castellanos to Detroit sooner than later. While that may end up happening, it doesn't sound like the move was made with that in mind.
"I'll tell you the only thing we do know," said Dombrowski in closing. "He is going to go to the Arizona Fall League to keep working on the transition to the outfield. Beyond that, we don't know anything for sure.
Several scouts have been pretty pessimistic about just how quickly Castellanos will be ready as an outfielder, with one scout saying "He might be passable by next spring, but the ball finds you in the big leagues. If it finds him there, it won't be pretty right away."
In the end, despite the move to an "easier" position, Castellanos' bat remains far ahead of his glove. He may be ready to hit Major League pitching by mid-season next year and it will be dependent upon the development of his defensive abilities to cement his overall readiness. Either way, Castellanos will see the big leagues in 2013 and he should be a centerpiece of the Tigers long term plans.
"He's going to be really good," said an NL talent evaluator. "The guy can rake. He just knows how to hit and when you can do that with his power projection, he's going to be fun to watch. They will figure out the glove over time. In the meantime, enjoy the offense he can provide."