June 5, 2013 at 1:04 am

Lynn Henning

Tigers might need Nick Castellanos' bat to help secure playoff spot

Nick Castellanos is not quite a year into a new position, left field, which was mandated when the Tigers last year shifted Miguel Cabrera to Castellanos' more natural position, third base. (Robin Buckson/Detroit News)

Detroit -- Nick Castellanos might want to consider a weekly, rather than monthly, apartment lease at Toledo.

You could make a case for the Tigers calling their top prospect to Detroit. Soon.

Austin Jacksons hamstring is still healing and, from what we know about hamstrings and their stubbornness, delayed recoveries and recurring tweaks are often the case when a muscle so temperamental is strained.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland needs lineup help even beyond Jacksons leadoff spot. Victor Martinez and Alex Avila have been leaving too many runners on base and too many innings wanting for a base hit that neither Leylands designated hitter nor his starting catcher have been delivering.

It means the Tigers are wasting a lot of well-pitched games. They are losing when starters go deep and when those same starters and relievers are imperfect. They are losing because they lack a single, or double up the gap, or a ball over the fence, the brand of hits Avila and Martinez, in concert with Jackson, were supposed to bring with regularity in 2013.

Castellanos will be no savior when and if the Tigers decide a talented right-handed hitter is ready for Detroit. He is 21. He is not quite a year into a new position, left field, which was mandated when the Tigers last year shifted Miguel Cabrera to Castellanos more natural position, third base.

Castellanos, though, can hit. And its possible a prospect of his acknowledged skill and potential could help a lineup that looks as if it will badly need another bat if the Tigers are to lock up their division and survive Octobers playoffs.

The Tigers have known since spring camp that Castellanos would probably reach Detroit in 2013, even before roster limits expand in September. He is a 6-foot-4, 220-pound athlete regarded as one of the purer young hitters on the cusp of playing in the big leagues.

On the right course

Heading into Tuesdays game, Castellanos had a 10-game run in which he was hitting .368, with two home runs, two doubles and two strikeouts in 38 at-bats. He hit .259 in April, .282 in May, and, during the early days of June, was hitting .333.

They are not numbers that empirically say a player is ready for the big leagues. But factored with his track record, his hitting pedigree, and with his projected path to Detroit, he is on course.

At the end of spring training, a personal guess was that Castellanos would be in Detroit in June. That still seems possible, even reasonable, especially if Leylands offense shows too few signs of compensating for Jacksons absence, and for Avilas and Martinezs frustrations.

Dave Dombrowski, president and general manager for the Tigers, was asked Tuesday if Castellanos might be gaining on that Comerica Park debut.

He is doing better, offensively and defensively, Dombrowski said in an email exchange, and continues to improve.

However, we have no time frame on him being ready.

Ready for left field

The Tigers, wisely, have allowed Castellanos his space at Toledo. He is three years out of high school. He was asked last summer to make a dramatic change when the Tigers decided Castellanos had no immediate path to Detroit as a third baseman and would need to learn the outfield.

Unusual for a player so young, the Tigers liked his bat enough in spring camp that they would have taken him north had he played a position of need. But with outfielders galore and third base nailed down, Leyland told Castellanos to take advantage of Toledo, to become as comfortable on defense as he was at the plate.

Thats an amazing statement to a 21-year-old. Big league prospects are typically tortured at the plate, not in the field. Castellanos, though, is a different horse who got different orders.

He has since gotten a feel for left field. Gene Roof, roving outfield instructor for the Tigers, has told his bosses Castellanos could play left field now and not be a liability.

It means no one should be surprised, particularly the way this Tigers team is lagging at the plate, if a rookie with enough talent to hold his own is told to get his tail to Detroit.

lynn.henning@detroitnews.com
twitter.com/Lynn_Henning