Tuesday, January 26, 2016

2016 Topes preview: Alex Castellanos

Over the Christmas Break, the Colorado Rockies signed outfielder Alex Castellanos to a minor league contact with an invitation to spring training. This likely means a return of Castellanos to the Albuquerque Isotopes.

[It always feels awkward using "likely" or "possible" in predicting where a player will be assigned. In the case of Castellanos, he's on a minor league contract and he has limited major league experience, so it's not a controversial statement. I still feel weird about it. In Castellanos' mind, he's probably hoping to be in the major leagues, as he should.]

The Purple Row blog opined that Castellanos could be this year's Roger Bernadina. It's not a bad comparison, other than Bernadina hitting left and Castellanos batting right. They both run well, hit for power and average, and could play all three outfield positions. Bernadina is the more natural center fielder, but Castellanos has played a healthy dose of infield positions over the last couple seasons.

Topes fans know Castellanos well. He played on the 2012 and 2013 teams. Both years, he was the victim of bad timing, suffering an injury at a time when the Dodgers were in need of an outfielder from the minor leagues. Castellanos hit for more home runs and RBIs in 2013, but had a higher average, on-base and slugging in 2012. (Personally, I thought Castellanos was pressing to hit more home runs in 2013 because he was surrounded by mostly singles hitters.)

Since then, Castellanos has bounced around a lot of organizations. After the 2013 season, the Dodgers designated him for assignment when they claimed outfielder Mike Baxter off waivers, then traded Castellanos to the Boston Red Sox for outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker. Castellanos never played for the Red Sox. He was also claimed off waivers by the Texas Rangers, but never played for them either. This time, he was claimed off waivers by the San Diego Padres.

Castellanos spent the 2014 season at triple-A El Paso, and posted a slash line of .275/.351/.439 that was not up to his usual standards. Castellanos also played a lot of different positions. From the broadcast booth, he didn't look like the same player.

The Mets signed Castellanos for the 2015 season and assigned him to triple-A Las Vegas. Castellanos was back to being one of the dominant players in the PCL back, posting a career-high slugging percentage, slashing .314/.381/.614, while cutting down on his strikeouts. Castellanos destroyed the Topes pitching staff early in the season.

In mid-July, I interviewed Castellanos for the Topes pregame show and he admitted that all the changes in organizations and positions had an negative impact on him. Castellanos was about to become a father for the first time and ended the season playing in six games for Yomiuri in Japan.

Now he's with the Rockies. I'll be eager to find out why he signed with the Rockies. Usually, minor league free agents sign with teams they think will give them a chance to reach the majors and/or a team that has a triple-A city they think they will enjoy. Considering the success Castellanos enjoyed in Albuquerque and the atmosphere at Isotopes Park, I wouldn't be surprised if those were factors.

What type of chance does Castellanos have to reach the majors? It wasn't bad at the time. It gets even better if the Rockies trade away one of their four left-handed hitting outfielders: Carlos Gonzalez, recently signed Gerardo Parra, Charlie Blackmon or Corey Dickerson. The Rockies also have lefty hitting Ben Paulsen, who is primarily a first baseman, but also plays outfield. The only right-handed hitting outfielder on the 40-man roster is Brandon Barnes, whose value is increased because of his ability to play center field.

Kyle Parker was designated for assignment. Matt McBride was signed to a minor league contract by the A's. Infielder Angelys Nina, who was moved to the Topes outfield last year to increase his versatility, was signed by the Phillies. That's three fewer right-handed bats for Castellanos to compete against.

Castellanos' ability to play third base is an asset. He played a little first base last year, and a few games at second base in 2014. In my opinion, his best position is right field. His arm is well above average and he still covers a lot of ground.

Among Rockies outfield prospects, former first-round pick David Dahl and Jordan Patterson only spent a half season at double-A New Britain. Raimel Tapia was at high-A Modesto the whole season.

In summary, signing with the Rockies was a wise move for Castellanos. If one of the lefty outfielders gets traded and/or somebody gets hurt, he just might be the first in line for a callup. While he's in the minors, he gets to play in a familiar ballpark, known for being hitter friendly, in front of supportive fans ... and he knows where to go eat.

For however long Castellanos is here with the Topes, I'm excited because he's a very talented player and will definitely make the team better.

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