The start of the 2020 Major League Baseball regular season has former Detroit Tigers slugger Nicholas Castellanos feeling a little different.
It has nothing to do with the delayed start, or the fact that after signing a four-year, $64 million contract with the Cincinnatti Reds this offseason, he’ll face off against the team that drafted him 44th overall in Friday’s season opener.
In fact, during a conference call with reporters Monday, he actually didn’t have much to say at all about playing the Tigers this weekend.
“It’s going to be fun,” Castellanos said. “I have a lot of respect for those guys, so it’s going to be cool seeing them.”
Instead, Castellanos’ excitement about the 2020 season is more about the dynamic between himself and his current club.
He’s entered a season on a contending team. He’s entered a season under the role of "key veteran piece." But the 28-year-old Castellanos has never done both at the same time — until now.
“(This season) feels more unique because this is probably one of the better teams I’ve been on in awhile,” Castellanos told reporters.
“I think we have more established players on this team that have a common goal to win. I think that makes the game more fun.”
By the time Castellanos broke through with the Tigers full-time in 2014, the team was reaching the end of a four-year run of dominance that produced four straight American League Central titles, two trips to the ALCS and another run to the World Series in 2012.
Before he was shipped to the Chicago Cubs at last year’s deadline for minor-league pitchers Alex Lange and Paul Richan, Castellanos was the most productive hitter on a team contending for one of the worst seasons in MLB history.
Finally, he’s ready to make a splash in a clubhouse that’s ready to win now.
“I would say just from my maturity’s standpoint, I’m more aware of myself as a player and as an individual,” Castellanos said. “I think I can enjoy and recognize the situation at hand much more than when I was a 21-year-old kid, doing my best to survive in the big leagues.”
He’ll have a familiar face alongside him while he tries to sort it all out.
Third baseman Eugenio Suarez, who also played his rookie season with the 2014 Tigers but was dealt the following offseason, has since grown into a menace at the plate, hitting 49 home runs a season ago.
The 28-year-old third baseman believes this is the best Reds team he’s played on, in part, due to the addition of Castellanos, with whom he used to walk the Tigertown dorms in Lakeland, Florida, as a teenager.
“(Castellanos) is still the guy,” Suarez said. “He looks a little bit older, that’s it. And he’s got tattoos.
“To have people like that, that enjoy what they’re doing … that’s what we want, to be around people like that.”
In a conference call with reporters on Monday, Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire called Castellanos a "fun guy" who's a dangerous hitter.
" ... Hopefully we can control him a little bit," Gardenhire said. "You're not going to control him totally, we know that. But, hopefully we can get in his head a little bit, or he'll get in our head. One of two. Something's going to happen."
Recent history suggests that he will have no trouble settling in with his new team. In 51 games with the Cubs last season, Castellanos broke out for 16 home runs and 36 RBI, while batting .321 with an OPS sitting at 1.002.
He’ll also have the benefit of playing half his games in Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park, which boasts some of the most hitter-friendly dimensions in the game.
Time will tell whether Castellanos’ stint in Cincinnati will be a productive one, but for the first time in a long time, his first day back to work will finally be about one thing, and one thing only: Winning.
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.