Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez or Nick Castellanos—one of them has to sit. Who’s it going to be?

A month ago, that would have been an easy question. Martinez and Cabrera are the veteran backbone of the Detroit Tigers offense. Castellanos, at age 24, is a formerly hyped prospect who made positive strides last season but is thin in the track-record department.

Yet for the first two games of the Tigers’ series against the Washington Nationals—playing in a National League park with no designated hitterskipper Brad Ausmus opted to rest Martinez on Monday and Cabrera on Tuesday while keeping Castellanos in the lineup.

The young third baseman rewarded his manager, cracking a home run in each game and tallying a total of four RBI. The Tigers split the two contests—losing 5-4 Monday and winning 5-4 Tuesday—and currently sit at 15-17.

Castellanos, meanwhile, is flat-out rolling. Entering play Wednesday, he paces the American League with a .378 average and owns a gaudy 1.045 OPS to go along with a team-leading seven homers and 28 RBI.

There are reasons to doubt his early surge is sustainable—as we’ll delve into shortly—but raking is raking.

Drafted out of high school with the 44th overall pick in the 2010 amateur draft, Castellanos made his MLB debut in 2013 trailing plenty of buzz.

Here’s how Bleacher Report’s Adam Wells summed up the general scouting consensus at the time:

There are certain players you will see on a baseball field who were so obviously born to do something—throw a 98 mph fastball, hit home runs, etc.—it makes the rest of us feel bad for not being able to do it.

Nick Castellanos was born to hit baseballs.

He showed flashes, but struggled at times with the bat and especially the glove, posting minus-30 defensive runs saved (DRS) at the hot corner in 2014, per FanGraphs.

In 2015, he hit 15 homers and drove in 73 runs, though his .303 on-base percentage and .721 OPS didn’t scream superstar-in-the-making.

For a month-plus in 2016, he’s been a beacon of hope on an otherwise mediocre Tigers team.

Free-agent right-hander Jordan Zimmermann is dealing aces, but the rest of the pitching staff has scuffled, putting Detroit in the bottom third in team ERA. And key offensive cogs, including J.D. Martinez (.230 average, .668 OPS) and Justin Upton (.220 average, .574 OPS), are swinging wet noodles.

After watching its run of four straight division titles crumble into a last-place finish in 2015, Detroit was searching desperately for a spark.

Enter Castellanos.

“I would just say the biggest thing that has changed has been my comfort level, being familiar with all the pitchers and stadiums and situations,” he said of his early hot streak, per Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal. “I feel way more relaxed. I feel like I’m not trying to do too much.”

OK, now for the wet blanket. After Monday’s action, Castellanos owned an absurdly high .455 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), per FanGraphs, which screams regression.

And his walk rate remains low, which means a dip in batting average would significantly deflate his stat sheet.

On the other hand, as Kyle Yost of Bless You Boys pointed out, Castellanos teased this production in the final months of 2015:

Take a look at his stat line from June 23 until the end of the season. Castellanos hit .283/.329/.487 with 121 wRC+, numbers that look much more like his 2016 start than his 2014 numbers. Considering these numbers, his electric start should have been a little less surprising and a little more expected. Though 2016 has been even greater than how he ended 2015, the foundation for this season stems from how he ended the last.

Again, we’re talking about a 24-year-old still coming into his own. Even if he doesn’t hit .378 for the season (spoiler alert: he won’t), there’s no reason to assume he can’t keep improving.

“He ended up completing his development at the major league level,” Tigers general manager Al Avila said, per Rosenthal. “When you develop at the major league level, you make mistakes. It can frustrate a lot of people. You’re still learning the game…still trying to figure things out.”

On a team laden with pricey veterans, here is a cost-controlled kid with rising-star potential. He’s figuring it out. Drink it in, Tigers fans.

Tastes good, right?

Ultimately, Detroit will need more than Castellanos to stay competitive in the balanced, crowded AL Central. They’ll need Upton to live up to his six-year, $132.75 million deal. They’ll need arms other than Zimmermann‘s to provide consistent, quality innings. And they’ll need Cabrera and Martinez to stay healthy and productive.

If you’re searching for positives in the Motor City, however, look no further than the up-and-coming third baseman who has earned his skipper’s trust—and a secure spot in the everyday lineup.


All statistics current as of May 10 and courtesy of MLB.com and Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com