It was just 11 games, a grand total of 18 at-bats in a September callup. But if Nick Castellanos was determined to make it to the big leagues before that cup of coffee, he's even more focused on it now.
"It's unbelievable," Castellanos said at the recently concluded Rookie Career Development Program. "You realize that the big league life is the only life, because of how much fun it is. The planes, the food, the atmosphere -- everything is just awesome. It makes you want to work so hard, because you want to stay there.
"You don't want to just get a taste of it and then have to go back to the Minor Leagues. Getting there is the easy part. Staying there is the hard part, so you want to do everything you can to stay there as long as possible."
Castellanos, ranked No. 3 on MLB.com's top 10 third-base prospect list, should get the chance to stay as long as possible -- starting this year. He'll get to do it back in the infield, his stomping grounds when he first was a supplemental first-round pick of the Tigers in the 2010 Draft. Castellanos had moved to the outfield in 2012, ironically, because Detroit thought that might be his quickest path to the Majors. Now, with Miguel Cabrera moving to first to replace the departed Prince Fielder, Castellanos will be given an opportunity to be the Tigers' regular third baseman as a 22-year-old.
"[Manager] Brad Ausmus called me in early November and told me I'm going back to third base, so [first-base coach] Omar Vizquel has come down to work with me twice this year already," Castellanos said. "The outfield was getting easier, just because of the reps I was getting out there. But, 100 percent, I would much rather play the infield than the outfield."
Castellanos was a fair defender when he was playing third before. But getting the chance to work with an 11-time Gold Glove winner should help him shake off any rust quickly, though Castellanos said he might want to be sure his new defensive mentor doesn't try to steal his job.
"[Vizquel is] unbelievable," Castellanos said. "I still believe that, if he wanted to, at age 46, he could find a team. He still does exactly what he teaches. His hands are unbelievable -- and he gets to everything. Everything is so easy and fun to pick up. Working with him is a joy."
The apprenticeship should help Castellanos avoid anything in the field that could serve as an obstacle, because few doubt his ability to swing the bat. Among prospects, he is one of the best pure hitters around. The 2012 Futures Game MVP has a knack for making consistent, hard contact and making adjustments extremely well. The power many had projected for the Florida high school product when he came out of the Draft is starting to show up, with Castellanos setting career highs in home runs, doubles and, obviously, extra-base hits, along with tying his career best in RBIs in 2013.
More of that should come as Castellanos continues to mature and adjusts to Major League pitching. That's a good thing, considering the model most teams seek for the position and the fact that the guy who played there before him was a pretty good run producer. That kind of pressure doesn't seem to faze Castellanos, nor does the fact that Detroit expects to compete for the American League Central crown each and every season. Having Cabrera still in the lineup certainly helps, and Castellanos knows he can rely on him and the other veterans he watched so closely last September to show him the way.
"It's high expectations, but it's high reward at the same time -- because I get to play with these guys who have the work ethic and high expectations and go about their business the right way," Castellanos said. "It's a treat for me to go along for the ride and try my best to help them get there."