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NickCastellanosThirdIt’s been a long time since the Tigers have had a position player prospect as exciting as Nick Castellanos. We’re now used to seeing hot pitching names like Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, and Jacob Turner in the Tigers’ organization, but I don’t know that I can name another hitter that has had a realistic “All-Star” ceiling. I guess Curtis Granderson came up through the system with some pomp and circumstance, and appeared as a Top 100 prospect. But before Granderson it had probably been since Eric Munson that the Tigers had a hitter to be excited about (it’s a downer that I bring up Munson in a post about Castellanos, isn’t it?).

And so far, Castellanos has done nothing to quiet interest in his development as a hitter. After putting up a very nice .803 OPS in West Michigan last year as a 19 year-old (including a very, very slow April), Castellanos has jumped out of the gate in High-A Lakeland this spring. Through 74 plate appearances, Castellanos has for a slash line of .386/.430/.514.

This is the part of the post where I lay down the standard BABIP warning about how you can’t expect a hitter to maintain an overly-elevated average on balls in play (Castellanos’ is a grotesquely high .481 this year), but I’m not all that concerned about BABIP with Castellanos. Of course, he won’t be able to maintain that average, but if there’s anyone that’s likely to have a high BABIP skill, it’s a hitter like him. His minor league career BABIP of .418 likely includes more than a bit of good fortune, but he profiles as the type hitter that could maintain a higher (or much higher) than average BABIP.

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Castellanos isn’t a home run hitter – not yet at least – but he does hit for a decent bit of power. Right now, his extra base hits are of the doubles variety (he hit 36 in West Michigan last year and is on pace to at least match that this year), but that’s because he doesn’t have one of those big uppercut type swings. His approach at the plate isn’t to pull a lot of big fly balls, but instead to use the whole field (he can inside-out the pitch in a Jeter-like fashion) and hit line drives into the gaps. (Spend a moment fantasizing about line drives into the spacious gaps at Comerica Park with me.)

I expect the home run power to come on as he continues to fill out his frame and develop as a hitter (he’s only 20 years old, after all), but it will be the type of power that comes from being a great line drive hitter, not from simply trying to hit home runs.

That isn’t to say that there are no areas of improvement in Castellanos’ game. He has struck out a bit too often in his (rather brief) minor league career at 22.4%, although he’s been better in that regard so far this season (18.9%). You would like to see that strikeout rate drop a couple more percentage points as he matures as a hitter.

He could also stand to walk a bit more. His walk rate this year is at 6.8% (down a bit from his career 8.1% mark). Castellanos could definitely get by with an average-ish walk rate, especially with his contact skills, but patience (or the lack of) is one of the big reasons that Delmon Young is Delmon Young, and not Miguel Cabrera (OK, that’s overstating it but stay with me).

Walk rate is one of those things that doesn’t seem like a big deal when a player is hitting (because why walk when you can double off the wall?), but no one can continue to post a .400+ BABIP indefinitely. But there’s really no reason to make a habit out of swinging at bad or borderline pitches.

Castellanos is still early in his minor league career (665 plate appearances in), and has achieved good success at the plate as a player that’s a couple of years young for his level. There’s no reason that he can’t make strides in the plate discipline department as he continues to learn how to approach professional pitching.

Matt Snyder is the editor of The Tigers Den. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew.