I think we’d all agree that if there was one need that went unfilled this winter for the Dodgers, it was the addition of a righty corner outfielder with some pop against lefties to potentially take some of the load off of Andre Ethier & Carl Crawford. If that player could manage to cover first base every now and then, that’d be even better.
It didn’t happen, and so now the closest the Dodgers have to filling that role is with Jerry Hairston, who is only one man, coming off serious injury well into his 30s, and honestly not really all that great in the first place. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, because of course we all expect that a move to shed a starting pitcher is in the cards at some point, hopefully bringing back the Casper Wells or Franklin Gutierrez or Drew Stubbs type we’ve been yearning for so much.
But for now that move hasn’t happened, so in the meantime, all we can do is work with what’s in the organization right now. Since the team apparently has no inclination to give Scott Van Slyke a chance — remember, not only did he get passed over by every team after being DFA’d, he’s not even in major league camp right now — the only viable option appears to be Alex Castellanos.
As we all know, the Dodgers attempted to make Castellanos into a second baseman in Triple-A last year, but apparently gave up on that idea after 50 games, because he spent the final six weeks or so playing third base. We have no indication of what their plan is for him in 2013 is yet, though I’m guessing if they thought he could succeed at second base they’d have left him there; either way, it appears he’s only an outfielder for the big club this spring, as Eric Stephen reported earlier this month:
Mattingly said Alex Castellanos will get more time in the outfield during spring training, including center field. The Dodgers tried to develop Castellanos at second and third base in 2012 in Albuquerque, and may continue to do so in the minors, but Mattingly said, “Primarily in this camp, for me, we’re going to see him more in the outfield.
Which is fine, because the idea of Castellanos & Hanley Ramirez together in the middle infield might make for the worst defensive pairing in baseball. No, I don’t just mean “in the bigs in 2013″; I mean ever. At any level of baseball. In history. If there’s still hope that he can play third base, that’s fine, but I can’t say I’m holding out a lot of hope for it. After all, the Cardinals gave up on him as an infielder originally, so it’s not like this is a new issue, right?
So if he’s going to be an outfielder again, then he has one job: hit. And hit he has, to the tune of a wonderful .328/.420/.590 line for the Isotopes last year. If not for a pulled hamstring that cost him a month early in the season, he almost certainly would have been the first Albuquerque recall when Dodgers started going down left and right in May.
You know as well as I do that ABQ stats are not to be taken at face value, but Castellanos is the rare player who turns that logic around, because as well as he hit in New Mexico last year — .307/.382/.515 — he was actually even better on the road, putting up a ridiculous .346 /447/.659 line with 12 of his 17 homers. (Though of course it should be noted that the entire PCL is a hitter’s league, with ABQ just being among the worst offenders.) Even more encouragingly, his BB% (from 6.1 to 11.3) and his K% (24.0 to 20.9) each trended in the right direction from what they he had been doing in 391 pre-trade Double-A plate appearances for the Cardinals in 2011. He’s hit wherever he’s played, including .306/.374/.529 in 21 Venezuelan Winter League games this offseason and no, I’m not letting uninspiring 25 MLB plate appearances spread out over four months indicate any sort of reliable track record.
But we all know by know that you can’t simply scout off of stats, and most of Castellanos’ scouting reports — made by people who have, you know, actually seen him play — indicate some concern. Kevin Goldstein, writing at Baseball Prospectus prior to the 2012 season, noted that “Castellanos is an aggressive hitter who looks to yank fastballs, and he needs to develop more patience and a sound two-strike approach.” Our pal Chris Jackson, who covered the Isotopes all season, echoed that concern by adding that “he’s a very aggressive hitter [who] swings at first pitch a lot.” I’m hoping that the improved BB/K line indicates an effort on Castellanos’ part to improve, though that’s generally a tough attribute to change at the higher levels.
This may all depend on what the team has planned for Castellanos defensively, because if there’s still hope for him to be an infielder, then he should be at Triple-A every day making that happen. If not? Well, the Albuquerque outfield has the potential to be wildly overcrowded even without him in the mix, and since Castellanos turns 27 this summer, he has little left to prove in the minors. That’s not the same thing as being so highly touted of a prospect that it’d be a waste to have him be a part-time player in the bigs, like it would be for Yasiel Puig. He’s not. And there’s a role for him on this team.
I’m not a scout, and I haven’t seen Castellanos play in person, so I can’t say for sure how relevant his nice minor league track record would be to big league pitchers who can easily exploit weaknesses. I do know that I cannot stomach yet another season of Ethier flailing helplessly against lefties, and it seemed that Don Mattingly was at least open to the idea of hiding him against southpaws near the end of last year. If you can still find a way to fill this hole via trade, fantastic. If not? It seems there’s a pretty intriguing internal option ready to give it a crack right now.