December 6, 2012 at 5:25 pm

Tony Paul: At the Winter Meetings

Could Avisail Garcia fit more into Tigers' long-term plans than Nick Castellanos?

Outfielder Avisail Garcia doesn't have the hype that outfield prospect Nick Castellanos has but may have more value to the Tigers. (Robin Buckson/Detroit News)

Nashville, Tenn. -- The talk of the Tigers' minor league system the past two seasons has centered, squarely, on Nick Castellanos. And understandably so.

But it's not out of the realm of possibility that he'd be the ballclub's first choice to spin off in a trade, over fellow outfielder Avisail Garcia.

For starters, Castellanos has the hype, so he'd probably net more in return.

But there's also this: Garcia, no question, is the more well-rounded player, with his speed and defense, to go along with his impressive abilities at the plate.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland, for one, loves that about Garcia.

"He's the total package," Leyland said Wednesday at baseball's winter meetings. "I love two-way players. He's a two-way player."

It's a big reason Garcia, who's only nine months older than Castellanos, was the Tigers' pick for a late-season call-up. He does so many things well, team brass thought he could help in the thick of a postseason race — and he most certainly did.

To be fair, Castellanos, 20, also was knee-deep in a position change, moving from third base — where there's no immediate future with the Tigers, because of a man named Miguel Cabrera — to the outfield, and he didn't have the easiest time with the transition.

Defensive plus

Garcia, meanwhile, is a natural outfielder who has a cannon for an arm — which the White Sox, caught off guard, found out during a pivotal series in September.

"He can throw, he can run, he's a very good defender, and I think he's going to be a very good offensive player," Leyland said of Garcia. "He's really a total package player when he arrives.

"How soon he's going to arrive? I don't know."

Realistically, it could be as soon as the 2013 season.

Until the Tigers sign a right-handed-hitting corner outfielder to spell Andy Dirks against left-handed pitchers, Garcia and Castellanos will be in the discussion. And even if the Tigers do add a free agent to fill that need, nobody's disputing the possibility of Garcia or Castellanos earning a spot on the 25-man roster out of spring training anyway.

The Tigers, obviously, don't believe it's ideal to bring either one north for a bit role — say 35 or 40 games or so, against left-handed pitching — when their development would more benefit from playing on a daily basis, even if that means sticking in the minor leagues.

Opportunity knocks

But this also is fact: The Tigers are out to win, and win now, and if they think Garcia or Castellanos could help make that happen, even by way of a small role, then they won't be afraid to roll the dice.

Garcia, signed out of Venezuela as a teenager in 2007, hit .319 during extensive playing time in September for the Tigers. He even got 25 postseason plate appearances, batting .261.

One thing he hasn't showcased yet, though, is some muscle. All of his 15 regular-season hits were singles; he did have a double out of his six hits in the playoffs.

That'll soon change, Leyland said.

"He's eventually going to hit with power," said Leyland, who a couple years back also said the same thing about Austin Jackson, who has gone from four homers to 10 to 16 in his first three years. "It's usually the last thing to come."

That's not to say, of course, that Castellanos will be the first to go.

The Tigers rave at length about them both.

And there's more than enough room for in the Tigers system for both, especially when you consider Cabrera has only three years left on his contract — and figures to potentially move back to first base even before that time comes. After Victor Martinez departs following the 2014 season, Prince Fielder, another of the Tigers' defensive liabilities, can then shift to designated hitter, presumably for the rest of his career.

That would open up a possible everyday spot for Castellanos back at his natural position, third base.

But there might be a fit for him elsewhere before that, though — especially considering Major League Baseball's scouts have delivered their thesis on the blue-chipper: He'll be an impact bat, and soon. (Castellanos batted .320 in 2012, between stops at high Single A and Double A.)

Plus, Castellanos' third-base background makes him at least a tad more marketable.

Just look at how quickly third basemen are being gobbled up this offseason — Jeff Keppinger and Eric Chavez signed Wednesday, and Kevin Youkilis could be off the board very soon — while there's typically always a surplus of outfielders.

"You've got the two kids," said Leyland, discussing his options this season for the outfield, which, for sure, will feature Jackson in center and Torii Hunter in right. "Can one of them stick?"

Well, that's one question.

One just might be more likely, and not necessarily the one most of us have been thinking all along.