LAKELAND, Fla. -- No matter how well Tigers top prospect Nick Castellanos hit in Spring Training, he was headed to Triple-A Toledo. Judging by the way he hit, though, he shouldn't be there long.
The expected move came Tuesday, with Castellanos as one of eight cuts from the Tigers' spring roster. A non-roster invitee, he was sent to Minor League camp along with reliever Trevor Bell, infielder Argenis Diaz and outfielder Tyler Collins.
Among those on the 40-man roster, second-base prospect Hernan Perez was optioned to Double-A Erie, while catcher Bryan Holaday, right-hander Jose Ortega and left-hander Duane Below were optioned to Toledo.
None of the moves was a surprise -- not even Castellanos, despite his ripping up Grapefruit League pitching. The 21-year-old went 9-for-25 with two doubles, a home run and six RBIs this spring, his first with the big league club. However, it would have taken an incredible set of circumstances to turn that into a spot on Detroit's Opening Day roster.
"I did well, and they told me I made a good impression," Castellanos said Tuesday morning on his way out.
Though Castellanos came in with an opportunity to compete for a Major League job, Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski made it clear before camp that they wouldn't take Castellanos or fellow outfield prospect Avisail Garcia north with them just to serve as bench players. They'd have to get enough playing time to justify the move so that it would not hinder their development.
That was a particular concern for Castellanos, who converted from third base to right field last summer and then shifted to left field in the fall. With Andy Dirks ticketed for the bulk of the playing time in left, and the Tigers' need becoming more clear for a right-handed hitter to mix in with Dirks rather than platoon, the numbers didn't fit.
"I was realistic about it, just knowing this was an incredibly tough team to make," Castellanos said.
One of the instructions manager Jim Leyland gave Castellanos was that he should feel as comfortable in the outfield as he does in the batter's box. He'll serve as the regular left fielder with the Mud Hens as he begins his third professional season.
"One of the other things that I told him was if he maintains the same concentration in the outfield as he does at home plate, he'll be fine," Leyland said, "because I'm one to believe that defense is concentration. He's a big-time prospect. I like him a lot."
The Tigers have turned to Toledo early in the season for outfield help in three of the past five seasons. Matt Joyce got the call just a month into the 2008 season, while Brennan Boesch turned a torrid spring into a shot at the Majors by the end of April 2010 as an injury replacement. Castellanos has put himself in a position to do the same.
One level below him will be Collins, who made a similarly strong impression in his first Major League camp. The 22-year-old went 10-for-29 with two doubles, two triples, a home run and five RBIs.
"Top prospect, one of the best in the organization," Leyland said to describe Collins. "He's a ballplayer, I can tell you that. He breaks up double plays. He runs hard. He battles his fanny off. He's a baseball player. I'm very impressed."
Holaday went 3-for-17 with two doubles and four RBIs in 11 games, with a few starts behind the plate mixed in. His swing, however, looked better to Leyland.
"It's pretty simple with him," Leyland said of Holaday's potential. "He'll be a good backup by mistake, and he'll be a regular if he hits."
Of the pitchers, Below came to camp with the best chance to make the 25-man roster, having opened last season with Detroit. The Tigers have a need for both a long reliever and a second left-hander, and Below fits the profile for both.
However, the 27-year-old had by far his worst spring among his three career Major League camps, allowing 11 runs on 14 hits in eight innings. He'll most likely rejoin the Toledo rotation for a third season.
"His spring was basically very inconsistent," Leyland said. "But in saying that, he was a guy who did a pretty good job for us last year in certain roles. Certainly he's not going to be forgotten, but he has to get more consistency. Sometimes his stuff looked really good, and other days for whatever reason his stuff looked short. It was kind of mind-boggling, really."
Leyland also indicated that left-hander Jose Alvarez will open the season in the rotation at Toledo. At this point, though, he's still in big league camp. "We want him to start to get stretched out," Leyland said. "We like what we saw."