Triple threat: Castellanos has shot at 3B title

Triple threat: Castellanos has shot at 3B title

DETROIT -- When the Tigers don uniforms with nicknames on the back for Players Weekend later this month, Nicholas Castellanos will have "Nick" on the back of his. He has that sense of humor.

"I wish I would've been more creative," Castellanos said, "but when they asked me what my nickname was, I just kind of said, 'Nick.'"

So when he was asked if it would mean anything for him to lead the league in triples -- he's atop the American League leaderboard after his ninth of the year in Thursday's 7-5 loss to the Pirates -- he had a similarly wry answer.

"It would mean that I led the league in triples at the end of the year, which would be cool to say out loud," Castellanos said. "But it's not like I'm lying in bed every night saying, 'I have to lead the league in triples.' If it happens, it happens."

It might actually happen, and not just because Comerica Park is friendly to triples.

Just two Tigers have led the AL in triples in the Comerica Park era, but Curtis Granderson and Austin Jackson each did it twice. Granderson did it back-to-back in 2007-08 before Jackson did the same in 2011-12. The only other Tiger to do it in the past 60 years was Jake Wood in 1961.

All of those guys had very good speed at the time and were considered sound baserunners. Castellanos, well, doesn't. So what gives?

First is the obvious: Comerica Park, with its huge outfield gaps, has always been conducive to triples. While other ballclubs have gone up and down the rankings depending on hitters, Comerica Park has been in the top three among AL stadiums for highest park factors for triples every year since 2011.

"This park lends itself to triples," manager Brad Ausmus said.

Six of Castellanos' nine triples have been hit in Detroit. The other three were at Kauffman Stadium and Tropicana Field, also historically high parks for triples over the years.

While Miguel Cabrera and ex-teammate J.D. Martinez have drawn attention for their opposite-field power, Castellanos has some of that, too. Add in his line-drive tendencies, and he has a skill set to take advantage of the vast territory near the out-of-town scoreboard in right-center.

Seventy-two of his 105 hits this season have gone to center or right field, including all of his triples. Five of his triples have been gappers; Thursday's cue shot inside the right-field line off Gerrit Cole was just the second at Comerica Park that wasn't in a gap, and the other was a ball down the right-field line and into the corner on June 16. Likewise, six triples had an exit velocity of 99 mph or higher, according to Statcast™.

There's another, more subtle factor to consider: While Castellanos isn't a speedster, he's faster than you think. According to Statcast™, his top recorded Sprint Speed of 28 feet per second ranks fourth-fastest on the Tigers this year, faster than Ian Kinsler, Andrew Romine, Alex Presley and Justin Upton.

"When he gets underway, he runs well," Ausmus said. "When he hits a ball in the right-center-field gap and he breaks stride, I can see why he gets triples."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.