March 10, 2013 at 7:25 pm

Lynn Henning

Nick Castellanos proving he'll get call to Tigers, sooner than later

Tigers top prospect Nick Castellanos is hitting .444 this spring. (Robin Buckson/Detroit News)

Notes, thoughts, items from Week 4 of Tigers spring camp …

1 . An office-pool guess on when the Tigers call up Nick Castellanos is June, maybe earlier. Castellanos, who turned 21 on March 4, is close to crashing Comerica Park.

"I'd feel comfortable putting him up there against a left-handed pitcher right now," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Friday when asked about a player Leyland says "is in that terrific prospect category."

Castellanos is 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, and a right-handed hitter who has the pleasing habit of driving pitches to right-center field. In his next at-bat he might wheel on an inside fastball and rip it past the third-base bag for a double, as he did Thursday against the Braves.

This is a gifted hitter dealing with professional baseball's realities. That would explain Leyland's qualifier about batting Castellanos against left-handers if he were to stick him today in a big-league game. Castellanos isn't ready to take on the right-handed arsenal he will see once he makes it to Detroit.

The Tigers and Castellanos are also dealing with a position change from third base to left field. This isn't the easiest transition for a natural left-side infielder. He is an outfield apprentice who in a few weeks probably will head to Triple A Toledo, which will make for a short, one-hour commute when the Tigers place their inevitable phone call.

And if you have May, or even April, in that office pool, you might be a winner.

2. Now you know why the Tigers grabbed Jeff Kobernus in December's Rule 5 draft. If 25-man rosters were submitted today, Kobernus makes the team.

He is batting .294 in 13 games and 34 at-bats. He has base-stealing speed. He handles second base. And although he hadn't played the outfield since his days at Cal-Berkeley, there has been nothing awkward or amiss about his work in left field and even in center.

Kobernus is 24. The Tigers got him only because the Nationals are loaded and had no space for Kobernus on their 40-man roster.

If he goes north, Detroit must either keep him on the 25-man squad for all of 2013, or ship him back to the Nationals for one-half the $50,000 fee Detroit paid in stealing him from the Nationals. Or, the two teams could opt for a trade.

Kobernus had two walks and a single in Saturday's game, a 4-2 loss to the Jays at Dunedin.

"He gives you a good at-bat," Leyland said afterward. "I thought he had about 2-3 terrific at-bats today."

Speed. Versatility. Can handle the bat. Knows the strike zone.

There was a decent chance ahead of spring camp Kobernus would go north. It has gotten better.

3. Leyland and the Tigers will take their roster problems.

They have too many outfielders, with Kobernus, Brennan Boesch, Don Kelly, and Quintin Berry, fighting for no more than two available jobs.

And now they have a potential surplus of infielders. Danny Worth is putting heat on Ramon Santiago, even if Worth has a minor-league option remaining and Santiago has a guaranteed contract ($2.1 million).

Worth is batting .381 in the Grapefruit League wars, with five doubles. He can also play three infield positions. Uh, make that four: Leyland purposely had him work at first base in Thursday's game at Disney as a way of making Worth even more versatile.

The Tigers have always liked Worth's defense and baserunning. They weren't as keen on his bat. But he has gotten stronger and has hunkered down with Lloyd McClendon, the Tigers hitting coach, who has driven through Worth's gourd that it's better to forget fences and concentrate on gaps in left- and right-center fields.

"He's in the mix," Leyland said Saturday. "He is definitely a candidate to make the team, without question. How's it gonna play out? I don't know."

The Tigers might play it safe and send Worth to Toledo. Or, they might trade Santiago, which is feasible, given Santiago's skills (when healthy). What's obvious is that a team bent on pumping more athleticism into its lineup and bench options has a different appreciation for Worth.

4. Bruce Rondon. Couldn't ignore him as a wild week for Rondon and the Tigers front office wraps up.

The Tigers will be 19 days from breaking camp when Rondon makes his next appearance, Monday against the Mets at Joker Marchant Stadium.

Think about it. A team's closer candidate is not so much auditioning as he is aspiring to prove he can finish games. Rondon was so intent on throwing strikes and avoiding mayhem during Friday's game against the Mets that of his 15 pitches 14 were fastballs.

He threw one slider. For a ball.

That mix won't hold up against good big-league batters. They will attack even his 99-100-mph fastball and drill their share.

But for the very reasons the Tigers brought him to camp with such hopes and projections, you can't dismiss Rondon as camp moves through the backstretch.

If his fastball behaves, a slider and change-up he regularly corralled in 2012 could follow suit and deliver at the wire a closer Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers boss, all along believed he had.

lynn.henning@detroitnews.com

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