Help Us Alex Castellanos, You’re Our Only Hope

92topps_alexcastellanosI 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.

Projecting the Dodgers’ Minor-League Rosters: Double-A & Triple-A

Editor’s note: Chris Jackson rounds off the minor league roster projections with Chattanooga & Albuquerque. Also, don’t forget to enter the Opening Day roster contest — open through 9pm PT tonight!

Van Slyke is one of nine outfielders who will vie for an Isotopes roster spot this spring. (Photo courtesy of the Isotopes)

Scott Van Slyke is one of nine outfielders who will vie for an Isotopes roster spot this spring. (Photo courtesy of the Isotopes)

Chattanooga Lookouts (Double-A Southern League)

Starting rotation: Onelki Garcia, Zach Lee, Aaron Miller, Rob Rasmussen, Chris Reed

All prospects, all the time, in east Tennessee this year! Garcia has the most pure stuff, but the least experience. Lee and Reed will hope their potential matches the results this season. Miller will have to fight to keep his starting spot after a middling season. Rasmussen will get some attention as the new guy in the organization.

Bulllpen: Geison Aguasviva, Steve Ames, Kelvin De La Cruz, Eric Eadington, Jordan Roberts, Andres Santiago, Chris Withrow

That is a lot of lefties, but it is hard to figure out where else to put them. De la Cruz is not a LOOGY and will give them a second long reliever to go with Santiago, who could start if Miller struggles. Aguasviva could fight his way to Albuquerque. Roberts is 27, so if he can’t stick here, his time with the Dodgers may be done. Ames and Eadington figure to share the closing job, though Withrow could see saves, too, now that the Dodgers have committed to him as a reliever. Just missed: Javier Solano

Catchers: Gorman Erickson, Christopher O’Brien

Erickson will be looking for some redemption after a lousy 2012. O’Brien was decent enough at Rancho to merit the promotion.

Infielders: 1B–J.T. Wise, 2B–Rafael Ynoa, SS–Alexis Aguilar, 3B–C.J. Retherford, UTIL–Joe Becker, Omar Luna

Wise and Ynoa have played well enough to earn promotions, but they are blocked at Albuquerque barring some trades. Aguilar is the pick I am least confident in; it could be a half-dozen other guys. In other words, please, Dodgers, sign some random Cuban defector shortstop to spare the poor fans in Chattanooga watching a guy with a career .662 OPS. Retherford had a big year at Rancho, but struggled with the Lookouts, so he will return here. Luna and Becker didn’t play a lot of shortstop last year, but they sure could this year. Just missed: Chris Jacobs 1B, Elevys Gonzalez 3B/2B, Miguel Rojas 2B/SS

Outfielders: LF–Yasiel Puig, CF–Joc Pederson, RF–Blake Smith, OF–Nick Buss, Bobby Coyle

Puig and Pederson are premium prospects. They both figure to play all three outfield spots here. Smith deserves to move up, and he certainly could, but for now I have him starting with the Lookouts. Buss and the talented but oft-injured Coyle return. Just missed: Kyle Russell

Final analysis: If some of the pitchers can translate their potential into results, then this team could be the favorite to win the Southern League. The rotation is six-deep and strong, while the bullpen is strong from both sides of the mound. The outfield should carry the offense, with shortstop being the only real concern on the infield. The Lookouts should be fun to watch this season.

Albuquerque Isotopes (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)

Starting rotation: Fabio Castro, Stephen Fife, Matt Magill, Matt Palmer, Mario Santiago

Magill is the legit prospect here. Fife returns and will be the first called up in the event of an injury to a starter in L.A. Palmer can chew up innings, but that is it. Castro was terrible last year with the A’s organization and might not last long in Albuquerque. Santiago is a gamble, with the Dodgers/Isotopes hoping he can carry over the success he found in Korea last year with the SK Wyverns.

Bullpen: Michael Antonini, Blake Johnson, Hector Nelo, Red Patterson, Paco Rodriguez, Cole St. Clair, Shawn Tolleson, Josh Wall

Antonini’s health is in question, so he might not crack this group. Rodriguez and Tolleson both deserve to pitch in the Majors, but I have Javy Guerra and Ted Lilly taking the last two spots. Johnson and St. Clair return in the long relief roles. Wall should close again. Patterson moves up, but it could easily be Ames instead. Nelo, a minor-league Rule 5 pick, gets the nod over the plethora of Triple-A vets signed this off-season. I am also betting that the veteran trio of Kevin Gregg, Mark Lowe, and Peter Moylan will opt out at the end of the spring. Just missed: Juan Abreu, Victor Garate, Gregory Infante, Wilmin Rodriguez, Luis Vasquez

Catchers: Jesus Flores, Matt Wallach

Flores could easily be subbed out for Federowicz if the Dodgers opt to have the prospect play every day and the veteran back up A.J. Ellis. Consider them interchangeable. Wallach has never hit, but he plays good defense and seems like a safe bet to the backup. Just missed: Eliezer Alfonzo, Wilkin Castillo, Ramon Castro

Infielders: 1B–Nick Evans, 2B–Elian Herrera, SS–Dee Gordon, 3B–Dallas McPherson, UTIL–Rusty Ryal, Justin Sellers

Evans always earned rave reviews for his defense, which could be a big help for Gordon’s wild throws (remember how Mark Teixeira made Derek Jeter look better back in 2009?). While it can be speculated that Gordon could or should be in the Majors, until he proves otherwise, I have him here. Sellers is another guy most people are counting out, but the Dodgers have not dumped him yet, even after his arrest in Sacramento. Herrera can, and likely will, play everywhere, but he should play almost every day. McPherson will DH against AL teams, since his back is unlikely to hold up for 144 games. Ryal gets the nod because the Isotopes need the left-handed bat. Just missed: Alfredo Amezaga UTIL, Brian Barden 3B, Ozzie Martinez SS

Outfielders: LF–Scott Van Slyke, CF–Tony Gwynn Jr., RF–Alex Castellanos, OF–Jeremy Moore

Unless Castellanos returns to the infield, this outfield is tough to figure out. Both he, Moore and Van Slyke are all right-handed hitters, so it would make a lot of sense for someone like Smith (who hits left-handed) to move up from Chattanooga. Unless the Isotopes only carry seven relievers (which, fat chance), it won’t happen unless the Dodgers move Van Slyke in a trade. Moore gets that backup spot because he can play all three positions and because the Dodgers obviously think very highly of him as he was the only free agent to participate in their prospect minicamp last month. Just missed: Matt Angle, Brian Cavazos-Galvez

Final analysis: This team does not look as talented as last year’s playoff squad, at least on paper. The rotation looks awfully suspect behind Fife and Magill. The bullpen could be good, at least. The lineup lacks left-handed bats, but should be able to score enough runs to keep games interesting. If the Dodgers can’t find any additional starting pitchers, however, it could be a long summer of 12-10 scores in Albuquerque, which this reporter is not very interested in watching anymore.

Dodgers Depth Chart Analysis: Cornering the Outfield

Editor’s note: Chris Jackson returns with a look at the organizational depth in the corner outfield; consider this your well-deserved reward for making it through the endless slog of the infield.

Oh, corner outfield, that giant mixed bag of big and small, short and tall, fast and slow. Home to plodders and sluggers, a speedster here and there, and a whole slew of random types. As it is with most of the other positions already covered in this series, corner outfield has some legitimate prospects, a few sleepers, and a bunch of guys who will likely never see Albuquerque, much less Los Angeles.

Hey, Alex Castellanos, do you know what position you're going to play next season? Because at this point, we have no clue.

Hey, Alex Castellanos, do you know what position you’re going to play next season? Because at this point, we have no clue. (Photo courtesy of the Albuquerque Isotopes)

This group features a prospect without a defined position, a certain Cuban defector who has merited a vast amount of attention, and a number of other players who are a bit mysterious in terms of “will they or won’t they break through?” It is, in some ways, the opposite of shortstop, where the talent is at the lower levels and there are only suspects up top. Instead, similar to first base, there is a logjam of players between Albuquerque and Chattanooga, one that the Dodgers will have to sort out in spring training.

Onward with this long list of names …

Alex Castellanos: The 26-year-old Florida native only played four games, two each in left and right, in the outfield last season, but I am listing him here if for no other reason than there does not seem to be another obvious place to put him. Castellanos hit a robust .328/.420/.590 with 17 home runs with the Isotopes last seas, but finding the right position for him was the main focus. He played 50 games at second base early in the year and seemed, from this reporter’s perspective, to slowly get comfortable there. He has the range and reaction skills to play second, and once he settled in his throwing yips went away. Then he got called up to the Dodgers and only played outfield. After being sent back down he was moved to third base, where he struggled, particularly with his throws. Castellanos played solely in the outfield in the Venezuelan Winter League. Until he pops up somewhere else, it is assumed that the Dodgers have accepted his future role is primarily as an outfielder. Stay tuned as this narrative could easily change again multiple times in 2013.

Brian Cavazos-Galvez: The 25-year-old got a rare opportunity in 2012 and ran with it — playing in his hometown. The first native Burqueno to play for the Isotopes (there were a few over the years to pop up with the Dukes), Cavazos-Galvez capped an up-and-down year with a strong finish, though he did miss the end of the season with an ankle injury. Between three levels he hit .310/.340/.534 with 15 home runs. As usual, he was allergic to walks (13 total), but he offsets that somewhat with low strikeout totals (48). The problem Cavazos-Galvez now faces is in the scrum for playing time. There are other players considered to be ahead of him in the pecking order. He will have to fight for the right to return home to play for the Isotopes in 2013, but the odds may be against him.

Jeremy Moore: The Dodgers quietly signed Moore in the middle of the off-season. A former Angel, for all of eight at-bats in 2011, Moore was coming off hip surgery that cost him the entire 2012 season. He was surprisingly invited to the Dodgers’ annual prospect minicamp, suggesting his standing within the organization is already high, something that could spell trouble for other players like Cavazos-Galvez and a few listed below in terms of their chances to fend off Moore for an Albuquerque roster spot. A former football player in high school, Moore is still just 25 and has a reputation for athleticism instead of polish. In his last healthy season at Salt Lake in 2011 he hit .298/.331/.545 with 18 triples, 15 home runs and 21 stolen bases. On the downside, he drew just 21 walks while striking out 114 times in 426 at-bats. Moore has over 140 games of experience at each outfield position. If he is healthy, he will likely be the Isotopes’ version of a utility outfielder.

Scott Van Slyke: Andy’s son put together a perfectly nice Triple-A season (.327/.404/.578, 18 HR, 67 RBI), but flopped in the big leagues, save for one pinch-hit home run. Somewhat like Castellanos, the Dodgers could never seem to settle on what is Van Slyke’s best position in the field. One minute he was an outfielder only, then a first baseman, then an outfielder only again by season’s end. He was not called up in September when rosters expanded and he was dropped from the 40-man this off-season. The Isotopes would welcome Van Slyke’s power bat back into their lineup, but at this point it seems fairly clear that the Dodgers have all but given up on him, so a change of scenery could happen some time this spring.

Bobby Coyle: Injuries have taken a big bite out of the Fresno State alum so far in his career, limiting him to just 221 games since he was drafted in the 10th round in 2010. When he has played, Coyle has hit, including an eye-popping .370/.403/.580 line between Chattanooga and Rancho Cucamonga last season. If Coyle could ever stay healthy he might at least establish himself as a future lefty bat off the bench for Los Angeles. Depending on how the rosters shake out, he could return to the Lookouts or get sent back down to the Quakes.

Yasiel Puig: The man, the myth, the legend. That pretty much sums up Puig, a physical specimen who defected from Cuba and then received a stunning, seven-year, $42 million contract from the Dodgers. Puig looked like a man among boys in 82 at-bats between the rookie Arizona League and Rancho, batting .354/.442/.634 with five home runs. Since the regular season ended, however, nothing has seemingly gone right for the 22-year-old. He missed the Arizona Fall League with a wrist injury and instead went to Puerto Rico, where he mysteriously hurt his knee “at home” (often code for “you really don’t want to know”). Puig hit just .232/.308/.333 with one home run for Mayaguez, striking out 19 times in 69 at-bats. He fared a bit better in the extended Puerto Rican playoffs, but there still seem to be more questions than answers about Puig at this time. The Dodgers have said they expect him to start in Chattanooga, but if he struggles in spring training, he might be back in Rancho. Either way, a conservative big-league ETA is probably 2015, but at this point, there is really no way to know what is going to happen with Puig until we all see a full season out of him.

Kyle Russell: Once upon a time Russell was looked up as a future super-slugger who could come off the bench and blast mammoth home runs with his smooth left-handed swing. Then again, he was also looked at as someone who might enter into the Adam Dunn/Mark Reynolds/Rob Deer realm with his surging strikeout totals. At this point, however, Russell may simply be running out of time. Now 26, he was limited to just 229 at-bats last season at Chattanooga and a cup of coffee in Albuquerque. Russell hit .262/.379/.493 with 11 home runs and 69 strikeouts, somewhat on par with his career numbers (.271/.365/.523, 94 HR, 666 Ks in 1850 AB). Barring trades or injuries, there does not seem to be room with the Isotopes, meaning it could come down to him and Coyle for one of the bench spots in Chattanooga.

Blake Smith: Very quietly, Smith was Chattanooga’s most consistent hitter on a team that seemed to suffer through a season-long batting slump. The Cal-Berkeley alum hit .267/.358/.432 with 13 home runs and 65 RBI for the Lookouts, while often showing off his cannon-like arm in right field. Now 25, Smith is another player for whom time is running short. While he seemingly did everything possible to earn a promotion to Albuquerque for this upcoming season, with Castellanos, Cavazos-Galvez, Moore and Van Slyke ahead of him, he will need the Dodgers to make some room. Otherwise he might have to return to Chattanooga, a move that could push him to left field if Puig opens there. Smith’s ceiling might just be as a backup lefty-hitting outfielder, but if the path ahead does not clear up soon, he might end up another journeyman.

Jonathan Garcia: If anyone on this list needs a mulligan for 2012, it’s Garcia, who went from being ranked No. 13 on Baseball America‘s top 30 Dodgers prospect list to suffering through a fairly dismal year at Rancho. Garcia’s plate discipline, never a strong suit, disappeared almost completely with the Quakes as he hit just .233/.266/.386 with 12 home runs. He drew just 15 walks while striking out 134 times in 378 at-bats. Garcia seems destined to repeat Rancho, but if he cannot pull himself together at the plate, then he will never advance further up the ladder.

Nick Akins: An organizational player, Akins bounced around the system last year, batting .241/.328/.399 with 10 home runs. A 19th-round draft pick out of Vanguard in 2009, Akins is already 25 and figures to be a backup at Rancho or Great Lakes again.

Scott Schebler: A borderline prospect and potential sleeper, the 22-year-old Schebler was drafted in 2010 in the 26th round out of an Iowa junior college. He put up a semi-respectable .260/.312/.388 line with Great Lakes last year. He can play all three outfield positions and, at the very least, figures to stick around for a few years, at least as a backup. He will move up to Rancho this year.

Devin Shines: The son of former Expo Razor Shines, Devin was picked in the 38th round out of Oklahoma State in 2011. He has exceeded expectations so far, batting .267/.328/.469 with 11 home runs overall last season, finishing at Great Lakes. Much like Schebler, he could end up developing into a fringe prospect, but he is just as likely to serve as a backup in the low-to-mid minors and nothing more.

Joseph Winker: Another organizational player, Winker was drafted in the 28th round out of Mercer in 2011. He hit just .225/.289/.385 with 11 home runs and 64 RBI with Great Lakes last year, spending time in right field and at first base. He figures to move up to Rancho this year, but is doubtful the 23-year-old, lefty hitter will ever be seen as anything but depth.

Theo Alexander, Joey Curletta: Two possible sleepers who were drafted back-to-back last summer. Curletta, 19 in March, was a sixth-round pick out of Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix. He waited until the deadline to sign and hit just .149/.235/.176 in the Arizona League. Curletta could end up at first base down the line, or he has a strong enough arm to potentially move to the mound. As for Alexander, he was a seventh-round pick out of Lake Washington High (Kirkland, Wash.). He hit just .237/.283/.247. Both players figure to be held back in extended spring training, but both have some potential for the future if the Dodgers can refine their raw tools.

Pat Stover, Cory Embree, Devon Ethier, Gregory Pena: The various organizational players who saw a fair amount of playing time at Ogden or in the Arizona League last season. Stover, 22, was a 40th-round pick out of Santa Clara last summer. He hit .270/.351/.331 with Ogden. Embree, 20, was a 38th-round pick out of Maple Woods JC (Kansas City, Mo.) and hit a solid .320/.409/.493 in the Arizona League against younger competition. Ethier is the younger brother of Andre, which is probably the only reason he is still in the organization. The younger Ethier’s batting line in 2012: .169/.244/.234. Ouch. Pena is a 21-year-old who was born in New York but grew up in the Dominican Republic. He signed in 2010, but has hit just .260/.362/.333 with 44 stolen bases to date.

* * *

Puig might be the only potential star out of this group, but there a few others who might at least make up some of the Dodgers’ future bench, or they could be traded and start or platoon for the second-division teams out there.

This caps the Dodgers’ position players. Overall it is a thin group, with only a few players who rate as above-average. This does not mean the Dodgers should focus solely on position players in this year’s draft (they should always draft the most talented player available regardless of position), but it might not hurt to bring some more bats into the organization in the top rounds. The Dodgers have also become more aggressive in signing players out of Latin America in recent months, another way to improve the depth and talent in the positional ranks.

Next up, the small but intriguing group of left-handed starting pitchers in the organization.

Dodgers Depth Chart Analysis: Can Anyone Play Third?

Editor’s note: Chris Jackson continues his look at the Dodger organizational depth with third base. Lord, I can’t wait until we get to the outfield and actually find some talent.

Recently, the good folks over at ESPN.com have noted how many good third basemen are playing throughout the Majors. While it is true that the Chase Headleys of the world are shining elsewhere, there are just as many teams rolling the dice at the hot corner from Chicago (Jeff Keppinger, Ian Stewart) to Minnesota (Trevor Plouffe) to Oakland (Josh Donaldson) to Atlanta (Juan Francisco) to Miami (the corpse of Placido Polanco) to Colorado (check back in a while on that mess).

For the Dodgers, third base is also a problem, in both present tense (Luis Cruz) and future tense. I won’t get into the whole “Hanley Ramirez should be at third” debate, because that’s been going for a while now and obviously Ned and co. are not going to change their minds until Ramirez is at 25 errors on Memorial Day. And even that might not get him shifted over to his right.

Going into the Dodgers’ stable of minor-league corner infielders, I found a logjam building up at first base between Double-A Chattanooga and Single-A Rancho Cucamonga (see the previous post in this series), while the organization remains pressed to find enough warm bodies to man third base throughout the system.

At third base, the lack of depth at the upper levels was clearly seen when the Dodgers signed two free agents with big-league experience and re-signed one of their own who had become a free agent. The wild card here, and elsewhere on the diamond, is Alex Castellanos, who finished last year at third for the Isotopes. For the purposes of these analyses, I am leaving him in the outfield, but if the Dodgers decide he should be a third baseman again, then throw out most everything you read below.

Barden with Round Rock in 2011. Hope he likes the PCL. (a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/madmiked/5760622536/">via)

Barden with Round Rock in 2011. Hope he likes the PCL. (via)

Dallas McPhersonBrian Barden: The two veterans, the former of whom played for the Isotopes in 2008 when they were a Marlins affiliate, will compete for playing time this spring. Both were signed as free agents; either could end up the starter in Albuquerque.

Elevys GonzalezOmar Luna: Gonzalez was acquired in the minor-league portion of the Rule 5 draft while Luna was signed as a free agent out of the Rays organization. Both Gonzalez and Luna are more utility players than everyday guys. Gonzalez will compete for a reserve spot with the Isotopes, while Luna will do the same with Chattanooga.

C.J. Retherford: The 27-year-old was originally signed by the White Sox as a non-drafted free agent out of Arizona State back in 2007. He tore through the system until 2010, when he hit a wall at Triple-A and was eventually released. After playing at Double-A for the Braves, Tigers and an independent team, Retherford signed with the Dodgers for 2012. He promptly hit .311/.366/.546 with 23 home runs and 92 RBI, mostly at Rancho and finishing at Chattanooga. Retherford should return to the Lookouts to start the upcoming season.

Pedro Baez: The biggest mystery among third basemen, Baez has underachieved throughout his career and was listed as a pitcher during instructional league this past fall. Always praised for his arm, Baez could move to the mound after batting just .247/.308/.391 for his career. Baez hit just .221/.306/.374 with 11 home runs and 59 RBI combined with Chattanooga and Rancho last season. If he is staying at third base, expect him to start for the Quakes.

Jesse Bosnik: A 13th-round pick back in 2010, the 24-year-old has done little with the bat, while playing two-thirds of his games at third base, the rest at first. Bosnick hit .239/.290/.360 with eight home runs, 44 RBI and 21 stolen bases at Great Lakes last year. He projects, at best, as a utility man, but is more likely just an organizational player who should move up to Rancho as a backup, or a starter if Baez’s days at third base are over.

Jeffrey Hunt: Purely a backup, the 22-year-old hit just .237/.295/.422 with six home runs for Great Lakes last season. He will either repeat the level or see his walking papers in March.

Alex Santana: The Dodgers’ second-round pick in 2011, Santana has yet to live up to expectations. The 19-year-old hit .254/.306/.365 with two home runs and 31 RBI between Ogden and the Arizona League last year. The son of former big-leaguer Rafael, this Santana was just 17 when he signed and very raw, both in terms of hitting and fielding. He should still push his way up the ladder and start for Great Lakes.

Bladimir Franco: He was signed out of the Dominican back in 2007. Now 22, Franco has hit just .233/.321/.381 with 27 home runs in 253 games, none above rookie level. While he put up decent numbers between the AZL and Ogden last summer — .269/.335/.448, 8 HR, 31 RBI — he is low on the depth chart and could return to the Raptors to start this upcoming season.

As anyone can see, the Dodgers are cursed by the same lack of viable third basemen as most teams. While folks tend to focus on catcher and shortstop as being too thin, the Dodgers’ lack of help at the hot corner stands out. It is not a problem unique to the organization, nor one that can be totally attributed to the McCourt era’s financial woes.

So in other words, if you want your kid to have a shot at the pros someday, put the tyke at third base and cross your fingers.

2012 Dodgers in Review #21: OF Alex Castellanos

.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.

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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.

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Next up! The highs and lows of being Matt Kemp!