Now Is the Time to Buy Nicholas Castellanos in Fantasy Baseball

The young Detroit Tigers' third baseman has had a decent start to 2017, but his batted-ball data tells us he's on the brink of a big season.

After it seemed as if the Detroit Tigers were going to tear everything down this past offseason, they entered 2017 with a mostly unchanged club. One of the few things manager Brad Ausmus had to figure out, though, was who would hit second in his lineup now that Cameron Maybin plays for the Los Angeles Angels.

That's where third baseman Nicholas Castellanos comes into the picture. He reported to spring training with a desire to take that spot (who wouldn't want to hit in front of Miguel Cabrera, right?), and a marked improvement on the bases seemed to help him secure it.

Of the 20 games Castellanos has played this year, he's been penciled into the second spot in the order 15 times. His overall triple slash of .229/.289/.470 through 90 plate appearances is OK, but it's also nothing to write home about. A .296 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) would lead us to believe he's not running into too much bad luck, either.

However, a peek at his batted-ball data makes it clear he's liable to go on a tear at any moment.

Hard Contact Is His Thing

Since becoming an everyday player, Castellanos has shown an ability to generate hard contact at the plate.

From 2014 to 2016, his hard-hit rate never dipped below 32.8%, and his cumulative 34.0% mark during this time is one of the top 75 in baseball. But what's even more impressive has been his propensity for limiting soft contact -- his soft-hit rate over this three-year span is 11.2%.

That's the same soft-hit rate as Joey Votto, and only one qualified hitter has a better rate -- Miguel Cabrera (10.2%), who's proved that he's pretty good at hitting baseballs. So, this was already a strength of Castellanos, and while his April numbers are bound for positive regression, he's gotten even better.

Taking It to Another Level

Here's a look at the third baseman's quality of contact from each season, including what he's done to this point in 2017.

Year PA Soft% Med% Hard%
2014 579 10.8% 55.3% 34.0%
2015 595 11.4% 55.8% 32.8%
2016 447 11.5% 52.8% 35.7%
2017 90 5.3% 36.8% 57.9%

That's quite an improvement, I'd say.

The soft contact has always been great, and while progress in that category is certainly welcome, the most notable change has been the shift in his medium-hit rate to his hard-hit rate.

To once again put this in perspective, his soft-hit rate ranks third among qualified hitters this season while his hard-hit rate is the best.

It hasn't led to the kind of results we'd expect, though, and his .296 BABIP doesn't suggest he's been incredibly unlucky. So, why should we think a hot streak is on the horizon?

Better Times Ahead

Some may point to the rest of Castellanos' batted-ball profile to explain some of his issues, and there's some merit to that. When comparing this year's data to 2016 -- which were some of his best marks with regard to line-drive rate (LD%), ground-ball rate (GB%) and fly-ball rate (FB%) -- they're not exactly on the same level.

Year PA LD% GB% FB%
2016 447 25.6% 31.5% 43.0%
2017 90 31.6% 33.3% 35.1%

He's not hitting as many fly balls as we'd like to see, but it's not as if that decrease is being shifted over directly to his ground-ball rate. Sure, that's slightly elevated, but his line-drive rate has seen a substantial rise, and it's the fifth-highest mark in baseball at the moment.

And when we look at hitters who have accumulated at least 70 plate appearances so far this year, there are only four with a soft-hit rate below 10.0% and a hard-hit rate above 45.0%. Check out how Castellanos' OPS, BABIP and wRC+ compares to their numbers.

Miguel Sano 1.032 .405 187
Paul Goldschmidt 1.023 .362 167
Corey Seager .924 .373 161
Nicholas Castellanos .759 .296 108

Castellanos is clearly the lowest on the totem pole in each category, and while he has the second-lowest fly-ball rate, he also has the lowest ground-ball rate and the highest line-drive rate among this group.

Add in the fact that his BABIP from 2014 to 2016 was .330 with that 34.0% hard-hit rate, and it looks like he's on the verge of busting out of this early-season funk in a big way.