Nick Castellanos has always responded well to a test. Since the Detroit Tigers third baseman was sent down to the minors last June after starting the season hitting below .200, he has come back to lead the American League in hitting this season with a .381 average. On Monday, he hit his sixth homer of the season in a 5-4 loss to the Washington Nationals.
Castellanos was a second-team American Family Insurance ALL-USA player in 2010 for Archbishop McCarthy (Southwest Ranches, Fla.), and his high school coach, Rich Bielski, knows all too well how Castellanos answers a challenge.
“Going into his senior year, I knew an area he could improve upon was his running,” Bielski said. “He had a fast 60 (yard dash) time, but didn’t have that many stolen bases his junior year (seven). I told him that if he led the team in stolen bases, that I would wear a pink tuxedo to our team banquet. We had some other guys who could steal bases. We had Jose Brizuela (now in the Oakland Athletics’ system) and Adam Duarte, who’s a senior this year at St. Thomas University (and leads the team in stolen bases), so we had some flyers, but Nick took his running game to a new level. I’m 6-4 and 230 pounds. I couldn’t find a pink tux with a pink cummerbund that would fit me anywhere, so I had to special order it. Nick has always been ready for a challenge, as we can see now.”
Bielski remembers thinking that Casteallanos would be a special player when he came up big as a junior against Taravella (Coral Springs) during a spring break tournament game in Sarasota.
“We were were down three runs in the last inning,” Bielski said. “We had two outs, but we kept getting on base and Nick came up with the bases loaded. The wind was blowing in, so I thought there was no way he would homer, but he got his pitch and hit a movie-ending-type grand slam. That just set the tone for what to come his senior year.”
Castellanos hit .542 with 41 RBI and a team-leading 22 stolen bases as a senior shortstop, leading Archbishop McCarthy to its first state title in 2010. He was committed to Miami, but went pro after he was drafted No. 44 overall that year by the Tigers. After being named the 2012 All-Stars Futures Game MVP and making all-star teams with three different minor league teams, he was called up to the Tigers’ parent club in 2013.
The Mavericks, ranked No. 5 this season in the Super 25 baseball rankings, have a playoff game today with No. 4 Rockledge. Bielski said Castellanos continues to have an impact on his team, which has won five state titles in the past six seasons.
“I tell the members of that 2010 team, you were the ones who started all of this,” Bielski said. “I tell all of our college or pro guys that their job is to continue learning and bring stuff back to us so we can continue to improve and learn. Nick is great at that, he speaks eloquently and is a smart young man. He can find the words to get to our young guys.”
One player Castellanos has taken under his wing is current Mavericks junior first baseman Alex Toral, a Miami commit, who is hitting .328 this season.
“Nick and I talk or text pretty often,” Bielski said. “If he has a great game or series, I’ll text him. I know most recently, I’ve asked him to speak with Alex Toral, our first baseman. In high school, Nick was very much in the spotlight and now AT is in the same position, attracting the same attention. The past couple of months, Nick has been very influential with AT. He’s speaking with him about the pressures he may be feeling and the leadership role he might be thrust into. I’ve seen a big difference in AT’s maturity and calmness.”