Gardenhire Stands Behind Peeved Castellanos As Tigers' Right Fielder

The questions will persist, so long as Castellanos' adventures continue. 

Will Burchfield
April 14, 2018 - 12:28 am
Apr 5, 2018; Chicago, IL, USA; Detroit Tigers center fielder Leonys Martin (12) and Detroit Tigers right fielder Nicholas Castellanos (9) chase a ball hit by Chicago White Sox catcher Omar Narvaez (38) in the fourth inning at Guaranteed Rate Field.

© Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

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It wasn't the first time Nicholas Castellanos looked out of sorts in right field this season, and it won't be the last time he's asked about it. This is the reality of learning a new position in the big-league spotlight. 

In the second inning of the Tigers' 8-6 loss to the Yankees on Friday night, Castellanos turned a Gary Sanchez line drive into a double when he misjudged the ball off the bat, turned around too late to catch it and allowed it to bang off the wall. At the last second, just as the ball sailed over his head, Castellanos ducked. 

It was an unflattering moment for a player who's still in an unfamiliar position. 

"Just said he kind of misplayed it a little bit, just lost sight of it for a second," said manager Ron Gardenhire. 

Castellanos, while acknowledging he got turned around as he retreated, dismissed the idea it was a misplay. 

"No, it was just me going back, finding the wall, and by the time I looked up it was already over my head," he said. 

Asked why he ducked, Castellanos said, "Just because I lost where the ball was, so I didn’t know exactly where it was going to hit off the wall." 

In a season that centers mostly on the growth of the Tigers' younger players and prospects, Castellanos, beginning his fifth full year in the majors, is the odd vet under the microscope. His ability to adapt to right field is a key unknown in the rebuild. There are a number of promising arms on the way to Detroit, but few position players with legitimate pop. Castellanos, who has plenty of pop, needs to prove he can handle a position player's duties. 

He wasn't pleased to be asked about his transition to right field after his mishap on Friday night. 

"Sure, the more time I spend out there, the more comfortable I’m going to get, but I think it’s funny -- in 40-degree weather I get a line drive off the wall that’s a double, and I get a bunch of microphones in my face asking if it’s a transition. I think it’s funny, but it is what it is," Castellanos said. 

The Tigers shifted Castellanos to right field last September to make room at third base for 24-year-old Jeimer Candelario. Position changes are something he's taken in stride since the organization drafted him as an amateur shortstop in 2010. He was moved to third his first year in Single-A (2011), to right field his first year in Double-A (2012), and to left field his first year in Triple-A (2013). He debuted for the Tigers as a left fielder late in the 2013 season, and was told that offseason to prepare for a switch back to third in 2014. 

Castellanos did as he was asked, because it was all about being on the field. Still is. 

"I'm not one that I'm only going to have fun if I play this position or that position," he said in a recent interview with 97.1 The Ticket. "I've been playing musical chairs with positions since I showed up. ... I went from playing third in the Midwest League to playing third in the big leagues on a team that needed to win the World Series yesterday." 

He was 22 years old at the time. He's 26 now and back in right, while the World Series is well off in the distance. The Tigers are hoping Castellanos can help them return, and he's once again game to help them try. 

"It's not about whether I'm playing third or right, it's about putting the best team we have out on the field. Candelario is a really, really good player and a good defender too, so if me playing right and Candy playing third puts both of our bats in the lineup, I'm for it," Castellanos said. 

Friday marked his 33rd start in right since last year's switch. The advanced metrics painted a grim picture initially, but they've been better in the early goings of this season. Castellanos actually had a positive Ultimate Zone Rating entering Friday's game. 

It bears mention this isn't an experiment. The Tigers aren't testing Castellanos in right field any more than they're testing James McCann at catcher. Castellanos is their right fielder now. Period. 

That was the plan entering the season, and Gardenhire doubled down Friday night. Asked if there's any concern about Castellanos in right field, Gardenhire quickly said, "None. He’s our right fielder, he will be all season."

But the questions will persist, so long as Castellanos' adventures continue.