The Detroit Tigers begin the 2014 season with Nick Castellanos at third base. If he puts it all together, he could become the fifth Rookie of the Year in club history. (Can you name the other four?)
Or he could be the second coming of Chris Pittaro. Remember him — the guy Sparky Anderson hyped as Detroit’s third baseman for “the next 10 years”? In 1985, Pittaro started the season as Detroit’s third baseman. Expectations were sky high due to a lot of loose talk from the skipper. But after 62 at-bats and a .242 batting average with no power, Pittaro’s Tiger career was over. He had a few short stints the next two seasons with the Minnesota Twins before washing out completely.
Castellanos is highly unlikely to be a bust like Pittaro, and he’s probably not going to be Rookie of the Year either, although he’s got a shot at it. He has a high ceiling and a good minor league record.
Castellanos is one of five home-grown players with significant roles on this year’s Tiger team, the others being catcher Alex Avila and pitchers Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, and Drew Smyly. The rest of the team is composed mostly of players corralled by Dave Dombrowski, who has a justifiable reputation as a savvy trader. One key component of his acumen is his nearly unblemished record of accurately judging the worth of the top talent emerging from the Tigers’ farm system.
He’s proven willing to trade away top prospects in the right deal. Three that come immediately to mind are Andrew Miller, Cameron Maybin, and Jacob Turner. All three were considered big prospects for the Tigers, and Dombrowski dealt them all in deals that some analysts at the time questioned, saying Detroit was mortgaging its future. But Trader Dave knew better.
Jacob Turner was selected in the first round of the 2009 draft, ninth overall, by Detroit. He started six games for the Tigers before Dombrowski shipped him to the Marlins in mid-2012. Last year, he started 20 games for Florida and had a 3.74 ERA. Still only 22 years old, he may yet have a very good career.
But in return Dombrowski got Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez, who quickly became one of the top pitchers in the American League and arguably the best No. 3 starter in the game. And the addition of those two players helped the Tigers to the World Series in 2012 and almost got them back there in 2013.
Andrew Miller was drafted in the first round by Detroit, eighth overall, in 2006. He’d been named the nation’s top collegiate pitcher in his senior year at the University of North Carolina. After 74 innings and a 5.69 ERA with Detroit, Miller was dealt away at age 23.
After the deal, Miller failed as a starter and has settled into a mediocre career as a bullpen lefty. He has a 5.33 career ERA in 430 innings. He’s in the Red Sox bullpen again this year.
Maybin was a monster five-tool outfield prospect. The Tigers got him in the first round in 2005, happy that he lasted until the tenth pick because of rumors he’d be difficult to sign. He, too, was dealt to Florida after hitting .143 in just 24 games with the Tigers in 2007. After three uninspiring seasons with the Marlins, bouncing up and down from the minors, he went to San Diego, where he signed a five-year, $25 million contract and was installed as the regular center fielder. He played two full seasons with less than superstar results. Last year, he suffered a rare sort of knee injury and then a season-ending wrist injury that required surgery. Maybin is now on the DL again with a biceps tendon tear he suffered in spring training. He could return as soon as late April, but his future is now somewhat uncertain, since his all-out style of play has taken a toll on his body.
Maybin may still end up having a decent career, but that hardly matters, because Dombrowski won the deal no matter what. Maybin and Miller were the key prospects (along with Mike Rabelo and Eugenio de la Cruz, who have both washed out) in the brilliant trade that brought Miguel Cabrera to Detroit.
When it comes to handling rookie phenoms, it appears Dombrowski knows when to hold ‘em and when to deal ‘em. The man who was Detroit’s opening day starter this season for the seventh straight year was, of course, the 2006 American League Rookie of the Year. And you probably got Lou Whitaker (1978) and Mark Fidrych (1976) pretty easily, too. But the first Tiger ROY was not Al Kaline, who arrived on the club as soon as he graduated from high school in June 1953 at age 18 and played in only 30 games while surveying the major league scene. He was beaten out that year for the rookie honor by his teammate, Harvey Kuenn.