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Hot-hitting Castellanos not resting on laurels

Hot-hitting Castellanos not resting on laurels

Hot-hitting Castellanos not resting on laurels
The power bat is eventually expected to arrive for Nick Castellanos. The bat for average is here now, and it's opening eyes.

The way he's swinging this year, nobody has been better. With a .417 average, Castellanos entered play Thursday topping all Minor League hitters -- every level, every organization, every age.

It's an honor Castellanos didn't know until a phone interview Thursday afternoon, before he walked across the Tigertown campus to Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla., for batting practice.

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"It's awesome," Castellanos said, "if I really want to sit back and look at it. But I can't now, because I've got a game in five hours. If I sit back, somebody's going to pass me."

The Tigers drafted Castellanos with their top pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft with the belief he had the potential to become an All-Star third baseman. He has the physical tools to hit for average as well as power once he grows into his 6-foot-4 frame.

That physical process is ongoing, helped by a strong offseason training program that included workouts with the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera and Alex Avila. The hitting acumen is advancing at a faster pace.

Over the last week in particular, Castellanos has been extremely difficult to retire. His 3-for-4 effort Wednesday night at Dunedin, including his second home run on the year, was his fifth multihit game in six days. Castellanos is 13-for-26 with six RBIs in that stretch.

A year ago, Castellanos was rebounding from a harsh welcome to pro ball at low Class A West Michigan. When he did, the difference was abrupt, earning him a .312 batting average and.803 OPS at season's end. Despite the jump to better pitching and bigger ballparks in the Florida State League, Castellanos has picked up where he left off.

"It's all a continuation," Castellanos said. "I'm still taking the stuff that I learned from last year and adding what I learned from being around the big leaguers in camp. I feel a lot more comfortable at that plate than I did last year."

A lot of that has to do with strikeouts, of which Castellanos had 130 last year. His pace is down quite a bit, from one-fourth of his at-bats last year to less than one-fifth now.

"Just more confident in myself," Castellanos said. "When I get two strikes, I'm having a better approach with protecting the plate, recognizing pitches a lot faster, getting to the ball, making sure I'm on time for every pitch."

The other side of confidence is in being a professional. That, too, is an adjustment for young players, Tigers vice president/assistant general manager Al Avila said.

"Obviously he made a positive move on the mental aspects of it," Avila said, "which is probably the most important thing for him in making the adjustments to professional baseball as far as having to play every single day, preparing every single day and living the professional life. Last year, that was the first time he ever did it."

Castellanos added to that the lessons he picked up as a non-roster invitee to Spring Training. The Tigers didn't have to put him in big league camp at age 20, in his second pro season. They wanted him there.

"Prince Fielder, Alex Avila, Brennan Boesch, Brandon Inge, all of them, they all definitely treated me as one of the guys, even though I was just a non-roster invitee," Castellanos said. "All of them talked to me, all of them would go out of their way to help me. I was very thankful.

"Just the level of concentration they have for every at-bat, whatever the outcome the first at-bat, it never affected them the next at-bat. So every at-bat for them was brand new. They were even-keeled and mellow and always ready."

Of course, a fresh approach is easy with that average. Whenever Castellanos hits a slump, he'll have a challenge. That said, he's trying not to focus on the end results.

"All I'm worried about," Castellanos said, "is putting the barrel to the ball every at-bat."

Castellanos also isn't worried about power just yet. He has nine home runs as a pro, but 46 doubles, including eight this season. Castellanos' homer total probably won't pick up until he reaches Double-A, likely not until next year.

"He will have the power to hit the ball out of the ballpark," Al Avila said.

Whenever Castellanos does, it won't be because he's trying to homer.

"Just because I get older, I'm not going to change my approach to hit more home runs," he said. "I'm just going to try to have good at-bats. Time will tell that."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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