2013 Dodgers in Review #23: RF Alex Castellanos

90topps_alexcastellanos.167/.167/.389 18pa 1hr .237 wOBA 0.9-0.3 fWAR (inc.)

2013 in brief: Clearly passed on the depth chart and found little opportunity in Los Angeles.

2014 status: Traded to Boston during the World Series.

Previous: 2012

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Another guest review from the commentator brigade. This time, we welcome DK’s unique brand of thinking. Thanks, DK.

When Alex Castellanos was traded by the Dodgers to the Red Sox for Jeremy Hazelbaker (who?) on October 23 (six days after he was designated for assignment), the Dodgers faithful (understandably) yawned and shrugged. After all, who cares about a 27-year-old minor league journeyman who finished his brief career as a Dodger 29 points below the Mendoza Line and just put up a .257/.348/.468 AAA season playing half his games at Albuquerque’s launching pad? The answer: pretty much nobody.

After the trade, Chad Moriyama seemed mildly perplexed when he wrote: “None of this is likely to matter in the long-run, but it’s still confusing to me,” and our own Mike Petriello seemed to regret having to waste space even mentioning the trade when he wrote: “this is a thing that happened and no more, and now you know about it, and for that I apologize.”

Now here’s the part where I apologize in advance for spending WAY too much time writing WAY too many words about Alex Castellanos. But hopefully you’re not doing anything important right now…

Anyway, after I offered to write the Castellanos review for MSTI, I started thinking (which admittedly is not always a good thing). Is there more to Castellanos than meets the eye? (Answer: maybe, but just a little.) Did the Red Sox just pick our pocket? (Answer: probably not, unless Hazelbaker has some latent defect.) After all, the Boston Red Sox are a pretty well run outfit, and they are the World Champs – so maybe they knew what they were doing when they dealt for Alex. So I decided to poke around a little (because who knows if I’ll ever have a chance to write another piece like this – so I may as well try to make it interesting-ish).

First I found this surprisingly optimistic take on Castellanos by Alex Speier, a columnist for WEEI.com, the website for Boston’s sports talk radio station WEEI-FM:

The Sox view him [Castellanos] as a right-handed hitter with some power who has the ability to hold his own against both right- and left-handed pitchers. While he’s coming off a down year in 2013 (.257/.347/.468 in Triple-A Albuquerque), the team thought him worth the acquisition cost based on his longer history as a player who provides solid at-bats, represents a plus runner and can play not only all three outfield spots but also the three infield positions aside from shortstop.”

Hmm. Could Boston have spotted some valuable part of Alex’s game that the Dodgers missed?

Well, Castellanos did have a good-year-on-paper for Albuquerque in 2012 (.328/.420/.590 with 17 HR and 16 SB in 94 games), but that must have been largely due to park effects, right? Right? Um – not so fast. In 2012, Castellanos’ road OPS (1.106) was actually more than 200 points higher than his Albuquerque home OPS (.904).. BUTT (I’m using a second “T” here because this is a really bug “but”) much of that road success can be traced to a ridiculous 2012 road BABIP of .417! (Tim Federowicz anyone?) But 2012 was still a solid season for Castellanos by any measure.

OK, so was 2012 a fluke? What about the year before? In 2011, Alex played in AA, dividing his time between Springfield (OPS .941) and Chattanooga (OPS 1.009) for a combined line of .320/.386/.573 with 23 HR and 14 SB and only 2 CS in 125 games. Another pretty damn fine season. And, for good measure, his platoon differentials in both 2012 and 2011 were inconsequential, supporting Mr. Speier’s view that Alex can “hold his own” against lefties and righties.

So if Alex was actually good at baseball in 2012 (even when not playing in Albuquerque) and in 2011 – then what the heck happened in 2013? Well, based on what little data I could find, it appears that Mr. Castellanos may have been the victim of a massive case of the Dreaded Road BABIP Regression (and if that’s not a thing then maybe it should be). No, I’m not kidding. (Well, maybe just a bit.) While Alex’s home OPS and BABIP in 2013 were essentially the same as they were in 2012 (see below – yes, I put WAY too much effort into this) – his road BABIP took a crazy nose-dive from .417 in 2012 to .246 in 2013 (in a league where the average BABIP is about .322) and that dragged down his road OPS from a dizzying 1.106 to a dismal .698.

Now, if all of these words aren’t enough to cause you to run screaming for another beer (or other beverage) – here comes an Alex Castellanos chart! (I really wanted to use the word “garph” but this is, in fact, a chart…)

Total OPS/BABIP Home OPS/BABIP Road OPS/BABIP v LHP OPS/BABIP V RHP OPS/BABIP League BABIP
2013 .815/.315 .911/.371 .698/.246 .628/.250 .897/.345 .322
2012 1.010/.390 .904/.365 1.106/.417 .899/.397 1.061/.387 .323
2011-AA .959/.381 1.067/.422 .861/.341 1.014/.364 .932/.389 .311
3-years .927/.364 .968/.389 .887/.337 .861/.339 .958/.375

In closing… (the few remaining readers shout “hooray” – but only inside their heads where nobody can hear…)

…Alex’s perceived value may have artificially tanked in 2013 due to nothing more than good old-fashioned bad luck. He’s clearly not as talented as he appeared to be in 2012 (as .417 BABIPs are ultimately unsustainable), but he probably doesn’t suck as much as he appeared to in 2013 (as his .246 BABIP was just way way off his norms and the league norms).

Now, to be clear, I do not believe that Alex Castellanos will become the second coming of Jayson Werth (or Candy Maldonado). Quite the contrary. First, at 27, he’s a lot older than those guys when they broke through and started playing well at the MLB level. And, second, he’s not nearly as good.

I would estimate that, given his career minor league stats, Castellanos’ best case projection as a major leaguer would be to become a kind of pre-2013 version of Jerry Hairston, Jr. – but with plus speed and some pop. Not a starter. Not a super utility guy. But a serviceable bench piece who can play at least five positions well enough to not stink up the joint while stealing a few bases, slapping base hits at a marginally acceptable rate and smacking an occasional dinger. Fortunately for the Dodgers, from what I’ve been able to dig up, Jeremy Hazelbaker is essentially the Muncie, Indiana version of Alex Castellanos (their apparent skill sets and projections are weirdly similar), just one year (and ten days) younger. (And he’ll probably give Chris Jackson better sound bites.) So, hooray Ned!?

*****

Next! It’s time for pitchers!

Now You Know Who Jeremy Hazelbaker Is

castellanos_spring_blue

This is not Jeremy Hazelbaker. Or maybe it is. You have no idea.

Writing a team blog is fun. You get to argue about the manager, complain about bullpen usage, monitor your favorite minor leaguers, and rosterbate about the upcoming season. But sometimes, hours before the first game of the World Series, a trade is made that’s so minor that you wonder, “does anyone even care? Do I even care? Does the player involved even care?”

With that as a backdrop, for the sake of utter, painful, completion-ism: Alex Castellanos, DFA’d last week when Mike Baxter was claimed off of waivers, was traded today to Boston for outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker, who I’m still not sure is a real person.

If he is, he turns 27 in August and went unclaimed in the Rule V draft last year, after being ranked as SoxProspects.com’s #23 prospect. Their report from before this year:

Outfielder with a filled-out athletic frame and plus speed. Hazelbaker had a breakout year at Ball State in 2009, showing an excellent ability to make contact. Turns on the ball well, drops the head of the bat on the ball nicely and creates good lift. Swing can be on the long side. Struggles with fastballs on the inner third. Solid-average power potential. Hit tools plays down due to poor recognition of secondary pitches. Has a lot of trouble with breaking balls and struggles against left-handed pitching. Hazelbaker gets out of the box well and has excellent instincts on the base paths. Improving with his reads and jumps. Potential impact runner on the bases. Defensively, Hazelbaker has above-average range, but tends to freeze on contact and takes poor routes to the ball. Does not see the ball well off the bat. Fringe-average arm strength. Speed to play center field, but profiles as a left fielder. Ceiling of a decent fourth outfielder, but may end up as an up-and-down player due to pitch recognition.

He then went out and hit .257/.313/.374 for Pawtucket, while striking out a ton — 27.3%, in the minors! — and for all intents and purposes is a one-tool player, especially if he can’t play center. You know, like Dee Gordon, except this guy at least has 60 homers in four-plus minor league seasons. He’s not going to be added to the 40-man roster, and he’ll most likely be 2014′s Matt Angle, taking up space in left field next to Joc Pederson in center for the Isotopes.

So if he’s a good interview to at least make Chris Jackson’s life easier, then good enough for me. Otherwise, this is a thing that happened and no more, and now you know about it, and for that I apologize.

Mike Baxter, Because Sure, Why Not

baxter_mike_metsVia press release, the Dodgers announced that they claimed outfielder Mike Baxter off waivers from the Mets, and designated Alex Castellanos for assignment.

Baxter, 29 in December, has a .229/.335/.348 line in 415 plate appearances across four major league seasons for the Padres (2010) and the Mets (2011-13), mostly playing right field, though he’s seen time in left (and, in the minors, first base), as well.

If he’s known for anything — he’s not, really — it’s that he’s a Queens native who helped save Johan Santana‘s 2012 no-hitter (the first in Mets history) with this catch off a Yadier Molina ball in the seventh inning:

In true Mets fashion, he fractured his clavicle on the play and missed the next two months, after missing a huge part of the previous year with a thumb injury. (So I guess he’ll fit right in.) In 155 plate appearances this year for the Mets, he hit just .189/.303/.250, though he did better in the Pacific Coast League (.289/.380/.519) because everyone hits in the Pacific Coast League. He’s just a guy, nothing more. (And no, to head off the inevitable questions, he’s not eligible for postseason play.)

Speaking of guys who hit well in the PCL but could never make it work in the bigs, Castellanos! Long a guy we’d hoped could help take some platoon burden off of Andre Ethier, the return for Rafael Furcal received only 43 plate appearances in two years for the Dodgers, just 18 this year, and had clearly fallen behind Scott Van Slyke on the depth chart. He didn’t have nearly as good as year in Albuquerque this year as he did last year, and since he’s already 27, he’s not much of a prospect either.

Frankly, this is purely a lateral — read: unimportant either way — move to me. Baxter has some small amount of utility as a pinch-hitter (.313/417/.463 in 84 plate appearances), but the last thing this team needs is outfielders. If he makes it through the winter on the 40-man, that’s a mild surprise; if he actually sees time in 2014, that’s a much larger one. For now, consider him the next Dallas McPherson or Nick Evans (whose spot he actually took in New York in 2011) — guys who briefly float through the system, never to be heard from or thought of again.

Dodgers Top 20 Prospects: A Midseason Update

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Four days without Dodger baseball! For a blogger, this is both a welcome respite and a terrifying gap. With the big league team off the radar right now, let’s dip into the farm system and get a quick update on the progress the top prospects in the organization have made in the first half of the season. There’s a million different pre-season rankings, so let’s keep it simple and go with MLB.com’s top 20 from last winter, along with my non-scientific informal up/neutral/down grade.

1) Zach Lee, P, Double-A Chattanooga (up!)

In Lee’s first attempt at the Southern League last year, he was fine but not great, with a 4.25 ERA and 3.89 FIP in 12 late starts. Still among the youngest players in the league at just 21, Lee’s made a huge step forward this year, increasing his whiffs (6.99 per nine to 8.21), reducing his walks (3.02 per nine to 2.37), and cutting down on homers as well. The end result is a 3.01 ERA / 3.15 FIP and increased chatter that we could be seeing him in the big leagues at any time, though we’ll probably not see him before September. Lee still isn’t likely to be the “ace” we’d hoped he could be when he was drafted, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with a solid #3 starter.

2) Joc Pederson, OF, Double-A Chattanooga (way up!)

Pederson is one of the very few players in Double-A younger than Lee, and he’s also one of the few who has increased his stock more than his pitching teammate as well. Pederson’s .407 wOBA is the top mark in the entire league, and he’s made believers out of prospect hounds who had previously been uncertain of his ceiling. One of those was ESPN’s Keith Law, who offered a very positive takeaway from seeing Pederson in the Futures Game. Baseball America‘s Ben Badler had a similar impression:

Best U.S. Batting Practice: Joc Pederson

Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson has mature approach for his age and a knack for barreling the baseball. He has no problem backspinning a ball, which helped him hit 18 home runs last year in the hitter-friendly California League, but the power—and really everything about Pederson’s game—has taken a step forward this year. The 21-year-old lefthander already has 14 home runs in the Double-A Southern League, where he’s hitting .296/.386/.516.

His batting practice display was as dazzling as anyone’s, with rainbow home runs that repeatedly cleared the right field fence. He may have been trying too much to put on a show by getting underneath the ball too often, but he also hit some of the furthest home runs of the day, including one that nearly cleared the second deck in right field.

But will we see him in Los Angeles? Though there was some thought to calling him up instead of Yasiel Puig, I’ve already called him “the best prospect you’re never going to see,” and the stuffed outfield situation makes him an ongoing subject of trade discussion. Even if he never plays a game for the Dodgers, he’s greatly increased his trade value.

3. Corey Seager, SS, Single-A Great Lakes (up!)

Three-for-three as far as good performances, because Seager has been outstanding in his age-19 season, hitting .299/.380/.488 for Great Lakes as one of the youngest players in the Midwest League. Perhaps more impressive, DeJon Watson insists that he’s staying at shortstop for the foreseeable future. Remember, he still doesn’t even turn 20 until next April, and he has the talent to be a star, ranking at #35 on Baseball Prospectus’ mid-season prospect list. Just don’t hold your breath on seeing him before 2015 or likely 2016.

4. Julio Urias, P, Single-A Great Lakes (way up!)

Urias is 16. Urias is 16. Urias is 16. Urias is 16. Sorry, I got stuck there for a second. Speaking of massively talented young players who aren’t close to Dodger Stadium, there’s Julio Urias, who is easily the youngest player in full season minor league ball. (Did you know he’s just 16?) If Urias had merely managed to avoid getting embarrassed with the Loons, that would have been an achievement, but he’s done more than that — he’s excelled, striking out 39 in 33.1 innings while holding down a 2.70 ERA, good for a #41 ranking on on Baseball Prospectus’ mid-season prospect list. Urias is obviously more than a few years away from the bigs… but then, no one’s really ever seen a pitcher this young succeed like this before.

5. Chris Reed, P, Double-A Chattanooga (neutral)

Reed’s had a nice season, but he’s the first prospect on the list to not have very obviously increased his standing. I’ll admit here that I’ve never been a huge fan, and I still think he’s a reliever in the long term, though he’s managed to stay in the rotation this year with 16 starts for the Lookouts. A 3.42 ERA (matched by a 3.44 FIP) is nice and is an improvement on last year, largely because he’s improved his control, but he’s just not missing that many bats — 6.93 K/9, down from 7.39 in his first crack at Double-A last year. There’s still a major league future here, just not a high-ceiling one. Of course, maybe that’s just me.

6. Onelki Garcia, P, Double-A Chattanooga (up)

I’m giving Garcia an “up” simply because he’s pitching after getting into just one game for the Quakes last year. Like Yasiel Puig, he’s a Cuban defector with some mystery in his past, and he’s missing a ton of bats — 40 whiffs in 38 innings. He’s also walking far too many (26), and while there’s obvious talent here, there’s definitely some rough edges to be smoothed out for the soon-to-be 24-year-old. If he can harness the wildness, he could move quickly, though his future could be as a reliever as well.

7. Matt Magill, P, Triple-A Albuquerque (down, probably)

It’s hard to give Magill a realistic grade, because he reached the bigs and had some early success (that’s good) before melting down in a flurry of walks and homers after that (that’s bad). His ridiculous schedule of constantly going up and down from Albuquerque to the Dodgers surely didn’t help, and he’s also recently missed a few weeks with arm trouble. Magill almost certainly has pitched himself out of consideration for further starts with the Dodgers this year, though he likely still has a future as a back-end starter — if not in Los Angeles, then likely elsewhere as he gets passed on the depth chart.

8. Chris Withrow, P, Dodgers (up)

After endless years of trying and failing to be a starter in Double-A, the Dodgers finally pushed Withrow to Triple-A this season, if for no other reason than to spare him the ignominy of a fifth year in Chattanooga. Now strictly a reliever, Withrow has been able to let loose his high-90s heat more often, though he didn’t leave his control issues behind, and he made his big league debut in June. Withrow is still walking too many with the Dodgers, but he’s been missing bats and should be a nice low-cost setup man for years to come — or trade bait in the next two weeks.

9. Zachary Bird, P, Rookie League Ogden (way down)

One of my favorite prospects entering the season, Bird has had an extremely tough go of it, walking 35 in 36 innings for Great Lakes before getting demoted back to Ogden. With the Raptors, he’s still been unable to find the strike zone, walking 11 in his first 13.2 innings. He only turned 19 yesterday, so obviously he’s still extremely young, but I doubt we’ll be seeing him in the top ten list next winter.

10. Alex Santana, 3B, Rookie League Ogden (down)

The 2011 second round pick still hasn’t made it out of the short-season rookie leagues, so that’s not great. He’s off to a good start with Ogden (.308/.384/.523) though it’s just been 84 plate appearances. Santana turns 20 next month, but he’s really going to need to show something and get himself out of rookie ball if he’s going to keep appearing on these prospect lists.

Let’s lightning round the second half…

11. Yimi Garcia, P, Double-A Chattanooga (way up!)

You can’t simply scout a stat line, but it’s hard to not be impressed by Garcia’s 52/8 K/BB as the closer for the Lookouts. Garcia has moved on a one-level-per-year pace, but we know how the Dodgers like to skip Albuquerque with pitching prospects, so it’s not out of the question we see him in September.

12. Jonathan Martinez, P, Rookie League Ogden (down)

Martinez turned 19 on June 27, so let’s not get too negative about any teenager, but it’s not been an impressive season at all for the Venezuelan righty. Since being sent from Great Lakes to Ogden, Martinez has thrown 26 innings… and struck out eight. Eight!

13. Jesmuel Valentin, IF, Rookie League Ogden (down)

Another teenager, so again, perspective must be kept, but even for a glove-first guy you’re going to need to do better than .207/.323/.287 for Great Lakes & Ogden. A lot better, especially for a first-round pick.

14. James Baldwin, OF, Single-A Great Lakes (down)

Baldwin wasn’t great in his first crack at Great Lakes last year (.209/.293/.334). He’s not doing much better this time around (.226/.325/.356) and despite great speed (121 steals in parts of four seasons) a career .314 OBP isn’t going to get you far.

15. Alex Castellanos, OF, Triple-A Albuquerque (down)

The great infield experiment is over, and so he gets a “down” just because he’s another year older, turning 27 next month, and with less positional flexibility. He’s still hitting well with the Isotopes and I still believe there’s some hope of a big league career for him, though it looks less and less likely it’ll ever be with the Dodgers.

16. Ross Stripling, P, Double-A Chattanooga (way up!)

Perhaps the biggest mover in the system this year is the 23-year-old Stripling, a 5th round pick out of Texas A&M in 2012. Stripling was promoted out of Rancho Cucamonga within a month and has been dominating the Southern League since arriving, putting up an outstanding 55/7 K/BB in 55 innings.

Last week, Minor League Ball named him the “prospect of the day”, offering this scouting report:

He threw 87-91 in college but some minor mechanical adjustments have boosted his fastball slightly, which now works at 89-94. His control of the pitch is excellent and he does a good job of working the lower part of the zone, inducing grounders and avoiding home runs.

He has three secondary pitches: curveball, changeup, slider. The curveball is his go-to pitch and is quite good, but the changeup has impressive moments as well. The slider is a new pitch that he’s gradually incorporating. His delivery is clean and consistent, he is a good athlete, and has stayed healthy under both college and pro workloads. Stripling also has impressive makeup, with high levels of general intelligence, baseball smarts, competitive instinct, and mound presence.

As a college pitcher without a ton of projection left, his ceiling might only be of a 4th starter, but there’s still a lot of value in that.

17. Blake Smith, P, Single-A Rancho Cucamonga (n/a)

Less than two years off a great .304/.369/.578 half-season in 2011, Smith recently was converted from the outfield to the mound. He hasn’t yet appeared as a pitcher, and his future is incredibly uncertain.

18. Rob Rasmussen, P, Triple-A Albuquerque (neutral)

Acquired for John Ely over the winter, the 24-year-old UCLA lefty was effective for the Lookouts but has had a really tough go of it in Triple-A. Albuquerque’s a tough place to pitch, of course, but Rasmussen’s ceiling is probably best explained by the fact that the cost of acquisition was, well, John Ely.

19. Garrett Gould, P, Double-A Chattanooga (down)

It’s usually not a great sign when you get promoted from Single-A to Double-A and the general consensus is “why”? Obviously, the California League is a tough place to pitch, but that alone can’t explain away a 7.04 ERA. Gould’s off to a better start with the Lookouts, though over only 7.2 innings. I remember last year when the Dodgers tried to get Carlos Lee and Gould was going to be the return, I hated the deal… but only because I didn’t like Lee, not because I would have been crushed to lose Gould.

20. Jose Dominguez, P, Dodgers (up!)

We end on a very high note, as Dominguez and his rocket arm have already made a splash in the big leagues, touching triple-digits with the Dodgers. Dominguez might have been ranked higher if not for the suspension hanging over his head that cost him the first part of the season, but has overcome that to get his big league career started.

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Overall, this is good news. The four big-time prospects in the system — Lee, Pederson, Seager, & Urias — have all had very good half-seasons, and the two top picks in the 2013 draft (Chris Anderson & Tom Windle) have shown promise at Great Lakes as well. Considering how torn apart the system was during the McCourt years when international spending was at just about zero (note here that Puig & Hyun-jin Ryu are not included), this is a massive step up.

Also, apparently, if you want to see some talent, stay away from Rancho Cucamonga. Smith is the only prospect listed here to be listed on the Quakes roster, and he’s only there because his conversion to pitching required he move down from Double-A. Pitcher Lindsey Caughel is probably the most interesting prospect there and could make the top twenty in the winter, and there’s some mildly interesting offensive talent in shortstop Darnell Sweeney and outfielders Noel Cuevas & Scott Schebler; otherwise, the star power here is concentrated in Chattanooga, which has seven of the top twenty.

What Have We Learned About the Outfield Today?

Sure, the game is still going on, but if Kevin Gregg is on the mound… well, is it really still going on?

This is what today’s game has given us just from the outfield perspective…

1) Alex Castellanos really, really wants to make this team. His homer in the seventh prompted this from Bill Shaikin:

2) Yasiel Puig isn’t just big and powerful, he’s really, really fast. Here he is beating out an infield grounder, and it isn’t even close.

At TrueBlueLA, Craig Minami had a conversation with Baseball Prospectus prospect guru Jason Parks about Puig & Zach Lee that’s worth reading.

3) Carl Crawford isn’t the only injured Dodger outfielder worth being concerned about. Matt Kemp went 0-3 with two strikeouts today, leaving him oh-for-the-spring, not reaching in 10 plate appearances with four whiffs. Obviously, I’m not putting much emphasis — any, really — on that small of a sample when he’s coming off surgery, especially when we’re reading stories that he’s trying to get over the mental hurdle of accepting he’s healthy. So that’s fine, and there’s still weeks to go in the spring. Still, as we saw last year, Kemp is the man that makes this offense go, so his presence — productive an healthy — is a requirement.