Nick Castellanos takes batting practice at Fifth Third Field. He hit .405 last season for Hi-A Lakeland before being promoted to Double-A Erie, where he batted .264 with seven home runs and 25 RBIs.
Listen closely, Mud Hens fans. It’s pronounced, “cah-STAY-ah-nos.”
But Nick Castellanos is used to people mispronouncing his name.
“[People get it wrong] pretty much every time these say it,” he said. “I’m used to people saying it with a double L — ‘cah-STELL-ah-nos.’
“As long as it’s in the ballpark, I don’t mind.”
It’s a name Mud Hens fans need to learn pretty quickly. And Detroit Tigers fans should start working on pronouncing it correctly, too, since Castellanos is considered the organization’s top prospect — not to mention one of the top prospects in baseball.
Castellanos has been considered one of the game’s best young hitters ever since Detroit selected him with the 44th pick in the 2010 first-year player draft. And nothing he has done in his first two years in a professional uniform has led anyone to believe that he cannot be an all-star caliber hitter in the major leagues.
“He can really hit,” Mud Hens manager Phil Nevin said of Castellanos. “A kid who’s 21 years old who has moved through [the Detroit] system like he has is pretty special.
“I look forward to watching him play every day.”
The only time Castellanos has struggled at the plate during his professional career was in the first month of his first season. He batted .179 in 19 games at Lo-A West Michigan, then roared to a .303 mark in mark in May and never looked back. By season’s end he was hitting .312 with seven home runs, 76 RBIs and a league-high 158 hits.
Castellanos admitted that his early struggles at the plate that season were a result of dealing with the pressure of high expectations.
“My first season in West Michigan, I felt it,” he said. “And I didn’t exactly do well my first month there.
“Then I realized that they picked me because of who I am, not because of what I’m going to become. Now I go out and try to be me, and hopefully that’s enough for them.”
Castellanos started last season as the third-youngest player in the Florida State League, but that didn’t keep him from hitting .405 in 55 games with Hi-A Lakeland. He was selected for the FSL All-Star Game but didn’t play — because he was promoted to Double-A Erie.
He did get to play in the Futures Game, and he wowed the crowd in Kansas City by going 3-for-4 with a home run and a walk to earn MVP honors.
When he returned from the Futures Game, Castellanos faced another adjustment: Originally a third baseman, his path to the big leagues was blocked by Miguel Cabrera. So the 6-4, 210-pound Miami native moved to the outfield, a move he said was one of the biggest adjustments he has had to make in the pro game.
“It’s not like I used to play outfield when I was little — when I played my first game in the outfield for Erie, it was the first time I had ever played in the outfield in my life,” Castellanos said. “I took an infield glove with me out there because I didn’t feel comfortable using the big glove. I had never used one before.
“Comparing where I am now with where I was then is night and day.”
What did he have to learn?
“Reads, going back, knowing where the wall is, the proper throwing mechanics — pretty much everything,” Castellanos said. “I’m much better than I was with everything, but I’m not where I need to be with anything.”
The extra work involved in learning a new position eventually affected his hitting. Castellanos entered August with a .316 average but batted just .193 that month and struck out 32 times in 114 at-bats.
“If BP starts at 4 o’clock, I need to show up at 2 o’clock,” said Castellanos, who was quick to add that the extra work was no excuse for his August hitting struggles. “Then when everyone would have just been getting ready to start, I would have already completed a full practice.
“[The Tigers] had me on an accelerated path to learn the outfield.”
Leon “Bull” Durham, the Mud Hens hitting coach, said he understands the work involved in learning a new position.
“I learned how to play the outfield in the major leagues — I only had about five weeks of experience in the outfield in Triple-A,” Durham said. “For me to stay in the major leagues, I had to learn [the outfield] — and learn about the offensive side of playing in the majors as a rookie.
“This is a good challenge for him. The goal is to make sure he stays focused and learn, so he gets better.”
Nevin said he likes what he has seen of Castellanos as an outfielder.
“He’s made tremendous strides in the short time he has been in the outfield,” Nevin said. “If he gets to the ball, he’s going to catch it. All spring training he’s done a good job.
“And he works at it. He knows his ticket to the big leagues is his bat, but he also knows he has to do a good job in left field.”
The Tigers brought Castellanos into major-league spring training, but he was one of the first players sent back to the minor league camp.
While Castellanos will begin this season as the Mud Hens everyday left field — and just one step away from the majors — the 21-year-old said he still has things he can learn.
“[I can improve my] defense. Offense. Running the bases. How to play the game the right way,” Castellanos said. “Picking up signs — just being a complete player, so that when I get to the next level, I can stay there.”
But his bat is nearly major league ready, according to Baseball America, who said he is No. 21 among the top prospects in baseball. About the only thing he hasn’t shown is power, with just 17 home runs in 276 professional games.
But that lack of power doesn’t worry Nevin.
“Without a doubt [he will hit for power] Nevin said. “This spring, the wind in Florida was howling every day, and he hit a couple [home runs] into the wind that were absolutely crushed.
“He also understands situational hitting, and he seems to thrive when there are runners in scoring position. He likes being up in those situations.”
Contact John Wagner at: email@example.com, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.