Tigers prospect Nick Castellanos is being slotted in as the everyday third baseman for 2014, despite his very limited experience in the major leagues. (Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News)
Detroit — They’re handing him third base because they think he will hit.
It’s his because of his potential.
But the Tigers are still stopping short of gift-wrapping Nick Castellanos’ future for him.
In other words, the starting job at third is not being given unconditionally to him this spring.
“He still has to earn that job,” Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said Wednesday during his annual pre-spring-training appearance at the Detroit Sports Broadcasters luncheon.
What does that mean? Isn’t the job his no matter what?
“We’re sure counting on him,” Dombrowski said.
By now, however, Tigers fans should know Dombrowski applies 100 percent certainty to very few matters involving his club.
Some of that is the natural caution with which he operates. Some of it is that he’s probably been burned by thinking a situation was 100 percent when it wasn’t.
A portion of it, too, is the old-school in Dombrowski — his way of saying, “Here’s an opportunity, kid, but no silver platter.”
And sometimes when Dombrowski injects a word of caution — as he did recently by stopping short of declaring Justin Verlander definitely will be ready for the start of the regular season, only to have it translate into a national website headline that Verlander might not be — it comes back to sting him.
So Dombrowski is being Dombrowski: methodical and careful.
“We’re expecting him to be our third baseman,” the Tigers GM said, when asked after the luncheon about his comment. “I’d be very surprised if he’s not. But he still has to perform well, which we’re counting on him to do.”
Leaning on Alex, Austin
Dombrowski labeled catcher Alex Avila as “a real key to our ballclub.”
And here’s why.
“He’s capable of putting up some good offensive numbers, handles the staff well, provides some leadership and I think in his case, as with Austin Jackson, they’ve played in the big leagues four full years, but you still think they’re young enough to take that next jump.”
To become what?
“To become that established, real good big-league player,” said Dombrowski, “the type that plays on All-Star teams. “We think they have that capability.”