.174/.200./391 25pa 1hr -0.3 fWAR (inc.)
2012 in brief: Attempted conversion from outfield to second base and then third base with varying degrees of success, all while destroying Triple-A pitching.
2013 status: Much depends on the glove, but the bat has earned a shot at the bench.
If 2012 will be remembered as the “summer of hamstring” thanks to the injury taking down Dodgers like Matt Kemp, Jerry Hairston, Juan Rivera, and more, there’s one particular hammy pull that had a quietly large impact despite going largely unnoticed: that of Alex Castellanos, who missed more than a month after hurting himself in the minors on April 23. At the time, Castellanos was destroying the PCL, hitting .366/.477/.746 with four homers while working hard to re-learn second base. Unfortunately for Castellanos, the timing was awful; after he was hurt, Scott Van Slyke, Jerry Sands, Ivan De Jesus & Elian Herrera all got recalled to the big leagues as reinforcements for the tattered Dodger roster instead of him. It was particularly painful given that Don Mattingly later admitted that Castellanos would have been the first in line had he been healthy.
Castellanos finally received his call-up to the bigs when Kemp made his second trip to the disabled list on May 31, and he made his first start the next day in Colorado, driving in two runs on two hits (including a triple) while playing left field. Unfortunately for Castellanos, his next two starts came against Cliff Lee & Cole Hamels, and as playing time became hard to come by with Rivera’s return, the rookie received only one more start before being sent back to Triple-A when Juan Uribe was activated on June 11. Other than a lone pinch-hitting appearance in August when the club was short-handed for a day as they waited for Adrian Gonzalez, Nick Punto, & Josh Beckett to arrive, we wouldn’t see Castellanos again until September – and even then he didn’t get a single plate appearance over the entire month until he hit his first major league home run as a pinch-hitter on the final day of the season.
So while Castellanos didn’t get much of a shot in the bigs this year, his 2012 was interesting nonetheless. For one thing, the bat can definitely play, with an excellent .327/.416/.591 line and 17 homers for the Isotopes. I know, I know: inflated Albuquerque stats. But what makes him unique is that he’s the rare player who actually performed better away from New Mexico (.346/.447/.659) than he did at home (.307/.382/.515). Then there was this: after most of a season spent learning to play second base, Castellanos suddenly started at third base on July 22, with no notice of a move that we were aware of. He remained at third for the rest of the year with the Isotopes, though he played only in left and right fields with the Dodgers.
And that’s really what makes Castellanos’ future so difficult to determine. There’s little question that his bat has earned him a big league opportunity, but as what? It’s hard to think that he’s ready to handle the bigs as an infielder right now, and there’s little room on the Dodger roster for that anyway. If he’s to continue to learning to play the infield, then he needs to be back in Triple-A playing it every day. If he’s back to being a corner outfielder, then he’s ready for the Dodgers, but the bat then loses quite a bit of its value. Then again, we all know the Dodgers need are in need of a righty-hitting bat who can play both outfield corners, and as an in-house option he might be the best choice.
The best-case scenario, personally, is that Castellanos is still viewed as a potential infielder, because it’s hard to say you can count on Mark Ellis or Luis Cruz with the utmost certainty. So if he goes back to Triple-A to start the season and works on his defense, that’s fine by me. If he’s now an outfielder and he’s an option to spot in the corners with the big team, that’s fine too, though I have some hesitation about pegging him as a platoon player since he’s never had much of a split in the minors. Just as long as he’s not playing outfield in Albuquerque, because that seems like a waste of his skills.
Next up! The highs and lows of being Matt Kemp!