On Friday night in Toronto the Detroit Tigers snatched victory from the jaws of defeat when they rallied for three runs in the ninth inning, all of the runs coming off the bats of their two rookies who play on the left side of the infield.
Nick Castellanos was mister clutch with a two-out, two-run homer to tie the game at 4-4. Immediately following him, Eugenio Suarez absolutely smoked a baseball to straightaway center field to give Detroit the lead. The heroics by the rookies helped stop an offensive drought that had started in New York where the Tigs dropped three of four to the Yankees while scoring just six runs.
With a bullpen that’s imploding and a streaky offense, the Tigers have been up-and-down and down-and-up for much of the season. Still, they maintain a slim lead in the AL Central over the Kansas City Royals, who are keeping the pressure on. The AL Central has been the dominion for Detroit dominance the last three years, and with veteran superstars on their roster, the Tigers are favored to make it four straight division titles. But if they want to be a force in the league over the next several seasons, Detroit will need contributions from young players like Castellanos and Suarez. But how good can the two rookies be in the near future and even further down the road?
Castellanos was a prized Detroit prospect ever since he was selected in the first round by Detroit in 2010. The tall right-handed hitter matriculated rather quickly and impressively through the Tigers’ organization, finally getting his first taste of The Show late in 2013. When Miguel Cabrera was shifted back to first following the offseason blockbuster deal that annexed Prince Fielder, third base was handed to young Nick in spring. So far the results have been mixed. Castellanos has looked like a rookie at times, flailing at pitches out of the strike zone and making hurried plays in the infield. But at other times his powerful batting stroke has been on display. He has 25 doubles, two triples, and eight home runs. Since 1953, only five other rookies have had more total bases for the Tigers, and Castellanos still has almost two months left in the season. His rate stats (batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging) are going to improve as he learns the pitchers and the league, and as he matures physically. He’s only 22 years old.
Castellanos has a high ceiling. He could be an All-Star, he could be a regular at third for a decade, or he could be a superstar. He has that sort of potential. That doesn’t mean he will become a star, but he could.
Suarez wasn’t supposed to be here. The shortstop position belonged to José Elgesias, the slick-fielding youngster from Cuba who came over to Detroit last season in a three-team trade from the Boston Red Sox. But Iglesias was lost for the season due to shin splints in both legs, and his future has to be in doubt considering his injury track record.
Suarez has more upside with the bat than Iglesias. In close to 300 minor league games, Iglesias had just 45 extra-base hits, while Surez had more than 170 in about 500 minor league games. Suarez isn’t the defender that Suarez is (few are), but he’s not a slouch in the field. He can make all the routine plays and his range isn’t too bad. He’s been streaky at the plate, but he’s also been yanked around by manager Brad Ausmus, who starts him for a week then platoons him with Andrew Romine for some reason. As evidenced by his monster line drive homer to center on Friday, Suarez has the potential to be a solid everyday player in the big leagues. He may end up at second base, and probably doesn’t have enough pop in his bat for third base, but he could be a valuable player at this level in the future.
The Tigers have traded many prospects over the last 4-5 seasons, preferring to grab major league ready talent that can help them make a run at titles now. (See the David Price trade for the latest example). These trades have been successful. Rarely do prospects pan out, and Detroit has done a good job holding on to their homegrown players who have proved valuable, like Alex Avila and Rick Porcello. Castellanos and Suarez are two more who could end up being in a Detroit uniform for many years to come, we’ll just have to wait and see.