By Andy Burdick
According to sources, AL MVP Miguel Cabrera has told the Detroit Tigers that he wants to return to playing first base.
— manolo hernandez d. (@beisbolporgotas) November 27, 2013
This seemed like the more than inevitable defensive change for Cabrera that fans and analysts had been expecting since his return to the hot corner full time in 2012. Cabrera, who has never been known for his defensive prowess, proved to be completely over-exposed at third base defensively in 2013 as he finished with a Defensive Runs Saved (Rdrs) of -18, his worst season in the field since 2007 with the team formerly known as the Florida Marlins.
So now that Prince Fielder has been traded to Texas and Cabrera is presumably returning to first base, that leaves everyone wondering what will happen at third base in Detroit. Jhonny Peralta left for much more lucrative pastures in St. Louis, but one of the reasons General Manager Dave Dombrowski stated Detroit didn’t make a push for Peralta was because they viewed him as a short stop, not a third baseman.
With the alternatives on the free agent market looking roughly like this, it’s hard to imagine the Tigers being overly excited about signing Placido Polanco or Brent Lillibridge to take over at third.
There are also no clear internal options ready to take over at third… unless you consider third-baseman-turned-outfielder-potentially-turned-third-baseman-again Nick Castellanos. Castellanos spent parts of 2012 and all of 2013 learning the ropes in the outfield and even made a few appearances in Detroit’s outfield at the end of the season. Dombrowski has already stated that Castellanos has a nice swing and is going to hit, which has to be somewhat reassuring for the Castellanos supporters. His Minor League track record looks pretty outstanding as well, as you can see below.
At 21 years old in 2013, Castellanos started to display some of the power scouts had been saying he would develop as he grew older, hitting 18 home runs and slugging .445. Hitting 18 home runs in Triple-A at 21 years can’t be a bad sign, right?
However, going into 2014 with Castellanos as the only third baseman has got to be a frightening prospect for the Tigers. He is an unproven player at third (all 38.2 of his Major League innings came in the outfield for Detroit) and at the plate (18 Major League plate appearances is what Keith Law would call a ‘small sample size’). These factors have likely contributed to Dombrowski downplaying all of the Castellanos speculation recently as he is quoted as saying:
“We had no further discussion on Peralta’s situation when the Fielder trade was made. We still think of him as a shortstop and that’s what he’s looking to play, so we did not revisit that situation. And we really couldn’t revisit it until we decided upon Cabrera and [Nick] Castellanos and what we were going to do there, and we still have not made any final decision on that at all.”
While Castellanos may seem like the most appealing option for the Tigers, and while he does have a magnificent head of hair, it sounds like, as of his quote, Dombrowksi is going take the responsible wait-and-see approach. Castellanos will probably get every opportunity to win the third base job out of spring training, but if he is looking over matched at the plate or on the field, don’t be surprised to see him back in Toledo fine-tuning his game before he takes over as the new Detroit Tigers third baseman.