By Ashley Dunkak
@AshleyDunkak

LAKELAND, FLA. – In his rookie season of 2014, Detroit Tigers third baseman Nick Castellanos felt some pressure. He had moved from the outfield to third base in the offseason, and his first full season in the big leagues would be another “World Series or bust” campaign for the Tigers, who had won the American League Central Division in three straight years.

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“We were expected, obviously, to go really far last year, and I was a rookie trying to play a new position at a new level – at the highest level,” Castellanos said. “So a lot of people had high expectations. Everybody had high expectations for the team. A lot of people had high expectations for myself. Now I’m more comfortable with it. I’m more comfortable with the expectations, I’m more comfortable with the big-league lifestyle, with playing in front of that many people, just everything in general.”

Last season Castellanos turned in a batting average of .259, and he hit 11 home runs and recorded 66 runs batted in. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said the power Castellanos shows in batting practice should eventually manifest more in games, but in the meantime the 22-year-old needs to work on his pitch selection.

“The most important thing for Nick as a hitter is going to be, having gone through a major league season once, learning to lay off the pitches that he swung and missed at, especially the slider down, the changeup down from lefties,” Ausmus said. “That pitch that starts in the strike zone and kind of fades out, he had a tendency to swing at, and it’s not a pitch that he can hit, so he’s got to learn to kind of let that pitch go by and wait for something a little more up in the zone. But he’s always had power. It wouldn’t shock me if as he got older, more experienced, the more the power showed up statistically.

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“He’ll revert at times and chase those pitches,” Ausmus added. “It’s not like you can flip a switch. But Nick takes his hitting very seriously, so I would expect him to trend upwards with an occasional trip here and there.”

Castellanos said his two biggest improvements this offseason have been to his lower half while swinging and to his starting setup at third base, where he’ll be more upright – “more of an athletic position than getting so low,” he said. Changing any element of a player’s game, of course, is easier said than done.

“It’s pretty difficult just because of how fast the game is,” Castellanos said. “You’re always going to kind of go to what feels comfortable even though what feels comfortable might not be 100 percent correct.”

While he entered last season with some anxiousness, Castellanos goes into this season with excitement. He can shoulder expectations more easily now than he did in 2014, though they still affect him some.

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“I’d say a little bit because you always want to play well for your team, you want to play well for your city, for your organization and show them that they have the right guy, that they made the right choice,” Castellanos said. “I wouldn’t say a lot, but it definitely weighs on me a little bit.”