The Detroit Tigers opened up their slate of spring scrimmages on Thursday against annual opener Florida Southern. Hitting second in the lineup was designated hitter Victor Martinez. It’s a safe bet that that won’t be the case for the season.
Though that 2-hole in the lineup is definitely a storyline leading up to Opening Day. Who is going to assume the role?
We learned earlier this week from Tigers manager Brad Ausmus that outfielder Justin Upton is not an option to hit second. Our latest projections had fellow outfielder J.D. Martinez as a strong candidate to move up in the lineup, but according to Anthony Fenech of the Free Press, Martinez’s preference is to hit somewhere in the middle of the order.
So no Upton and presumably no Martinez… what about third baseman Nick Castellanos?
“I’ve talked to Nick, and Nick is a possibility and, quite frankly, Nick wants to hit second,” Ausmus said.
Apparently the 24-year-old Castellanos and Ausmus have had talks pertaining to the subject leading up to spring training. The Tigers skipper appreciates his willingness to hit elsewhere, but also said that Castellanos needs to stick to his guns.
“I’m glad he wants to hit second and, ideally, he would get on base a little bit more, but if he hits second, he can’t go up there trying to walk,” Ausmus said. “Because he can’t change the style of hitter he is. He’s just gotta hit and be Nick Castellanos.”
Both Castellanos and J.D. Martinez had their 2016 campaigns cut down some due to injuries. Castellanos in particular was having a strong outbreak season prior to his injury in early August. Despite missing more than a month, he still saw a .030 uptick in his average (.285) from the season before, and clubbed 18 homers, three more than his sophomore season and in 44 fewer games.
Obviously being at or near the top of the order, getting on base is a major priority. Castellanos also improved in that department as well with a .331 OBP in 2016, a .028 jump from 2015. It’s a fine line to walk for both Castellanos and Ausmus, who reiterated what Nick needs to do to help spike the OBP even more, while also staying true to himself.
“Maybe try to tighten up the balls you’re swinging at,” Ausmus said. “Don’t leave the zone so much when you’re swinging — but don’t try to walk. You can’t try to walk.”
“You can’t try to walk.”
“We want Nick to hit and drive the ball,” Ausmus said. “That’s the type of hitter he is.”
In reality, Detroit doesn’t offer the greatest of options when it comes to prototypical No. 2 hitters in baseball. Both Castellanos and Martinez are more power guys who drive the ball and are not the most fleet-footed either. The two combined for just two swipes in three total chances, and also combined registered 77 base on balls.
Trading away Cameron Maybin has created this spring training predicament, and it’s surely a story to keep an eye on leading up to Opening Day.
**Player stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference