MLB Grade: C
Players Considered: Nick Castellanos
Castellanos has long been lauded for his bat, and for good reason. He is a talented, if still developing, hitter with the potential to hit for a solid average and good pop. There are still developmental hurdles he must overcome, but at least offensively, most within the game are still confident in his abilities. Defensively, though he has made strides in 2015, he is still a below-average defender and likely always will be. The Tigers have an interesting quagmire with Castellanos, continue to live with his defensive misgivings and hope his bat progresses to the point that it overcomes the negative defensive value, or move him off third base and back to left field where he was also below-average and where he will have more pressure on his bat. In reality, only the first alternative is really practical unless his bat takes substantial steps forward. In the end, the Tigers have reason to worry about the future of third base at the Major League level, even though Castellanos is still a young player with considerable talent.
MLB-ready Depth Grade: F
Players Considered: JaCoby Jones, Jefry Marte
Including Jones in this discussion is a bit misleading as he has played little, if any, third base in the minor leagues. Marte on the other hand, is a legitimate third baseman, though his true value is suspect. Marte is still only 24-years old and has seemingly been around for quite some time, but expecting significant development from him at this point is a long shot. There is bona fide pop in the bat, but he lacks the natural hitting ability to translate that to games, and his defense at third base is on par with Castellanos. The Tigers really have no other MLB-ready options in the organization, presenting an immense amount of risk if Castellanos were to regress or lose time to injury.
Pipeline Grade: D-
Players Considered: Randel Alcantara, Steven Fuentes, Josh Lester, Zach Shepherd
The story has to improve somewhere in this analysis, right? Unfortunately, it doesn’t improve here. The Tigers have no prospects above Low-A at this point that are even remotely viable as potential big league alternatives. Steven Fuentes is trending toward non-prospect rather than prospect, and while Josh Lester has some tools, few scouts think his hitting ability will allow his raw power to play in games. Zach Shepherd is far and away the best prospect the Tigers have at the position, projecting for a solid bat but struggling defensively with some scouts projecting a move to the outfield long term. Randel Alcantara remains light years away from the big leagues, but at least offers some intrigue when looking at his raw ability. The grade listed above may seem harsh, but with the best prospect at the position lacking a projection to stick at the position defensively, and the second best prospect having yet to debut in the United States, the Tigers have some work to do building the farm at third base.
Short-Term Risk: High
Long-Term Risk: High
I am certain the Tigers hoped this position would not be in question at this point in Castellanos’ development, but it is. Castellanos has rebounded nicely in the second half of this season, but at some point the club needs him to demonstrate offensive ability across an entire campaign; enough offense to mitigate his defensive struggles. If that doesn’t happen in 2016, the Tigers will be forced to begin looking for other alternatives, none of which currently exist within the organization. Castellanos is a talented individual, but the Tigers need consistency at the position and there is risk that Castellanos may not be the guy to provide that as the Tigers begin to re-shape their roster. Long-term the Tigers have the exact same questions. Castellanos could be the guy to solidify the position over the long term, or they could be back to the drawing board.
The Path Forward
Based on his offensive performance over the last three months, the Tigers have to give Castellanos another run as the everyday third baseman in 2016, and frankly, given the other needs on the team, they would be well served to focus their efforts elsewhere anyway. If Castellanos does not being to demonstrate his abilities in a more consistent fashion next season, then the path forward becomes extremely cloudy, and in many way, very problematic.