When the calendar turns to September in Major League Baseball, it allows for teams to get extra creative in their use of the roster. It also allows for fringe major league players or highly-touted prospects to put together an early audition heading into next season.
The Detroit Tigers will be no exception to this approach, but they will have additional reasons. With an aging club and a rebuild to get younger, leaner and more athletic on the horizon, being flexible with player personnel is of the utmost importance.
One big change Tigers fans could be seeing is third baseman Nick Castellanos, who reportedly approached both manager, Brad Ausmus, and general manager, Al Avila, about possibly changing positions in the field.
Nick Castellanos will begin taking reps in RF today. He brought it up as an idea to both Brad Ausmus and GM Al Avila.
— Katie Strang (@KatieJStrang) August 12, 2017
Prior to the team’s game at home against the Minnesota Twins on Saturday, Castellanos was working in the outfield with third base coach Dave Clark, who is also the team’s outfielder instructor.
Nick Castellanos, your right fielder of the future? pic.twitter.com/hIr4lfhilc
— Jordan Horrobin (@JordanHorrobin) August 12, 2017
It’s been a serious struggle defensively for Castellanos at the hot corner this season. After showing gradual improvement through his first three seasons, he has really regressed in 2017. His 16 errors pace all qualified third baseman in the sport and is already a career-high, with still over 40 games to go in the regular season.
The advanced metrics on defense don’t support Castellanos much, either. His -6.6 UZR is also a league-worst, but amazingly it is also his highest mark in that department in his young career. Nick is also already at a -12 in defensive runs saved, already surpassing his total from a year ago when he missed significant time with a hand injury.
Regardless of your taste in breaking down a player’s defense, you’d be hard-pressed to find stats that support Castellanos as a good defender in 2017. But it’s a mature and professional thing to see Nick be the one to suggest the idea.
“I brought it up to them and said that it’s something I’d be willing to do if that makes stuff easier for them and they were happy about it,” Castellanos said. “It’s been a defensive merry-go-round for me since I got drafted. Third, right, left, back to third, now back to right. I don’t care. At the end of the day I just want to win.”
“As long as I’m playing I’m happy,” Castellanos said.
A lot of Castellanos’ offensive numbers have dipped some as well from a year ago, but he’s been one of the Tigers’ biggest run producers for much of this season.
Playing in the outfield wouldn’t be foreign to Castellanos by any stretch. He has played in over 180 games in either left or right field when he was coming up through the minors. In fact, he played 130 games in left field for Triple-A Toledo in 2013 before being called up that September, then played in nine games for Detroit, also in LF.
Remember, prior to Castellanos’ first full rookie season, he was blocked at third base for the Tigers, because the team still had Prince Fielder at first base and Miguel Cabrera was over at third base. But when Detroit swapped Fielder for Ian Kinsler with the Texas Rangers, it opened the door for Nick to be the team’s everyday third baseman in 2014.
Tigers’ minor league roving instructor Gene Roof worked a lot with Castellanos as he progressed down on the farm, primarily when he did switch from third base to the outfield. Roof says that his willingness to switch is a mature thing on his part and that he can be an “average outfielder” with little trouble adjusting.
The Tigers’ 25-man roster could be in for a serious makeover this off-season. Ausmus said Castellanos could see some time in right field come September, and perhaps that move could be permanent for the ball club. Detroit also has recently-acquired prospect Jeimer Candelario, who is primarily a third baseman but can play both corners in the infield.
There is also a very real possibility that outfielder Justin Upton could decline his player option and become a free agent, which would not only free up more than $88 million in payroll for the Tigers but also leave a giant void in the outfield for 2018. Such a scenario would leave the surging Mikie Mahtook as the team’s only starting outfielder heading into spring camp.
Additionally, there has been much speculation on when, not a matter of if, Miguel Cabrera becomes the team’s full-time designated hitter as he starts to gradually age and slow down.
What does this all mean? It means be buckle up and be prepared for anything and everything.