Nick Castellanos has a New Approach to Hitting, and Believes it will Benefit Both Him and the Phillies

Photo Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

It’s easy to look at Nick Castellanos’ spring numbers and immediately want to make him a target of any concern, anger, or frustration that you may experience now that you have recommitted yourself to being all-in on the Phillies at the start of the season again.

Castellanos is 3-for-24 (.125) with 11 strikeouts.

While Spring Training struggles may weigh on some players, that’s not what Castellanos is focused on at all. And if you look at what he has been concentrating on this Spring, and view it through that lens, you can see something much different, much more important. Something that will ultimately benefit the Phillies if he sticks with it.

Castellanos is seeing the ball, and seeing it well.

That might sound odd for a guy who has struck out 11 times in 31 Grapefruit League plate appearances, but it’s the truth.

“I told myself coming in, that this Spring Training is more important than anything,” Castellanos said. “It’s more important than having high Spring Training numbers. Coincidentally, I’ve had three Spring Trainings where I’ve been absolutely unconscious and those three years I had my slowest starts (in the regular season). The biggest thing I wanted to focus on was being more relaxed at the plate and getting better pitches to hit. So, the only time I’m frustrated with myself is when I chase. If I get out, but I swing at a strike, then it is what it is.”

You can see he’s putting in the extra work. Castellanos has been more relaxed, and as it turns out, more patient. He has walked seven times, leading the Phillies by a comfortable margin. He’as moved up in the batter’s box a step. He’s moved a hair closer to the plate, and, despite the strikeouts, he has significantly cut down on swinging at balls out of the strike zone.

“He’s halfway through his walk total from all of last year,” said manager Rob Thomson, joking that Castellanos didn’t walk much in 2022. “That tells me one thing – he’s seeing the ball. He’s not jumping at it and his head’s not moving. I think he’s had good at bats all spring.”

I asked Thomson if that’s something they wanted to see more out Castellanos – more selectivity.

“Not necessarily,” he said. “But, I want him to take balls and not chase.”

Last season Castellanos walked just 29 times in 558 plate appearances. If he were to maintain his Spring Training pace, that would equate to 126 walks in the same number of plate appearances.

That’s probably unrealistic, but even if Castellanos could double his walk total in the same number of plate appearances, assuming the same number of hits, his on-base percentage would jump by 32 points.

It’s a new look for a guy who, until now, never really changed much with the way he approached things at the plate.

“For me it’s been about finding that happy balance at the plate where I’m doing less but still being ready to take that aggressive swing,” he said. “I’ve been a swing-first guy my entire career from the minor leagues on up. I’ve never been a guy who relied on being productive by walking, but now, moving to the middle part of the lineup, it’s no secret I can handle a ball over the plate if I’m in sync and I’m me. It’s finding that balance in being ready to hit by hitting your pitch. In the past, I wasn’t looking for a pitch… I would treat the game like it was batting practice.

“It’s staying relaxed enough where my box shrinks. I still want to be able to take my most aggressive swing, just be more relaxed and my box is smaller.”

And when he takes that aggressive swing, the ball can still go a long way – as it did Tuesday with this blast off Braves starter Bryce Elder, one of the few highlights in an ugly 15-5 loss to Atlanta:

Where he hit that ball is important, too. Driving the ball to the big part of the ballpark is what the Phillies are going to need from Castellanos, especially while Bryce Harper is sidelined the first two months of the season. That’s not lost on the Phillies right fielder.

“In the past I would get that pitch and get so giddy that I would hit it foul,” Castellanos said. “It felt good.”

It’s almost like last season’s outcome turned Castellanos from a brash, free-swinging, baseball destroyer, into a Zen veteran who now thinks the game in advance, and doesn’t overthink it at the plate.

When I asked him if not having as much time between pitches to think about his at bat was a benefit, he said, “possibly.”

But he wanted to reiterate that he’s not going to stop being himself. He’s still going to go up there and look to murder a baseball, he’s just going to narrow the focus.

“I want to be a more complete hitter. I want to be able to hit the ball hard. I want to be able to take my walks. I don’t think I’m ever going to be that guy who goes up there looking to walk. I’m not going to go up there taking 2-0 hoping it gets to 3-0 or taking 3-1 hoping to walk, but if I can be more disciplined with my swings, that’s a good thing.

“In a perfect world, I don’t walk at all and I hit the shit out of the ball every time because that’s way more fun. But no matter how good you’re feeling and no matter how good your swing is, if you don’t get a pitch to hit, you’re not going to be able to do anything.”

If this is the Castellanos the Phillies have in their lineup in a couple weeks and then going forward, it will be a huge plus for both player and team.

Stubbed… knee?

Another day, another injury for the Phillies.

Garrett Stubbs, who was at the World Baseball Classic with Israel, is heading back to Clearwater after experiencing “knee soreness.” It’s concerning enough to get an MRI:

It’s almost certain the Phillies won’t have an update on this for at least a day, if not two.

“We’re going to get an image on it tomorrow and see what it is, but we aren’t overly concerned about it,” Thomson said.

The good news is, if Stubbs have to miss any time, the Phillies have been getting a lot of reps the past week-plus with their depth catchers, so whoever would be next man up, would have had plenty of reps.

The common wisdom is that it would be Rafael Marchan, who, at 24 is still considered a bit of a prospect and has had cups of coffee with the Phillies in 2020 and 2021 before having his 2022 season derailed by injuries.

But we haven’t seen much of Marchan in Grapefruit League action. He’s played in just six of the 16 Phillies games and has just 12 plate appearances. He’s 0-for-10 with two walks.

Instead, the guys getting more action have been veteran journeymen like John Hicks and Aramis Garcia.

Hicks, 33, debuted at the major league level with Seattle in 2015, but the Mariners waived him and after a brief stint with Minnesota in the Spring of 2016, he ended up in Detroit, where he was a member of the Tigers for four seasons where he was the primary backup.

From there he went to Arizona in 2020, Texas in 2021 and the Chicago Cubs in 2022, only playing in 10 major league games during that time, all with the Rangers.

He came to camp with the Phillies as a non-roster invitee, knowing the odds were long of winning a job, because Stubbs and starting catcher J.T. Realmuto are chiseled in stone, but also knowing there would be a chance to play more here with both Realmuto and Stubbs heading out to the WBC.

And being seen is a good thing for a veteran depth guy trying to hang around the game.

Hicks, who started Tuesday, is 6-20 (.300) with two doubles so far in the Spring.

Garcia, 30, has seen an uptick in action of late and is 4-16 (.250) with a homer and two walks. But even more than that, he has impressed the Phillies with his defensive work and pitch framing.

Manager Rob Thomson called him a “really good receiver” and said he could be a “valuable depth piece” for the Phillies – and that was before the news of Stubbs’ injury.

Garcia reached the majors in 2018 with San Francisco and was waived following the 2019 season He was claimed by Texas before being traded to Oakland where he played in 2021. He signed with Cincinnati and played 47 games for the Reds in 2022. He, too, is with the Phillies as a non-roster invitee.

The one bugaboo here is that Neither Hicks nor Garcia are on the 40-man roster, so they would have to be added to play for the Phillies. This could mean that Marchan, who is on the 40-man, still has the inside track. But, with less action than the veteran guys coupled with the fact that he still doesn’t have a hit this Spring, it could make for an interesting scenario if Stubbs needs to miss time.

The hope, of course, is that Stubbs won’t be sidelined for long – and Thomson’s nonchalance about his return would suggest that’s the case – but you don’t get an MRI for nothing, so the Phillies might err on the side of caution. It’s why teams are so leery about sending their players off to the WBC. But, hey, at least Stubbs has this memory:

Ranger danger?

Ranger Suarez resumed his throwing program on the back field Tuesday, tossing about 25 “pitches” on flat ground. He told Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Inquirer that he felt fine, but that he still needed a week to determine whether or not he would start the season with the Phillies.

Suarez hasn’t pitched in Spring Training, but was also away at the WBC, so he doesn’t need as much time to build up, even though he hasn’t seen game action.

Thomson said he will throw more this week and then they will see where he’s at before deciding what his next step would be.

If Suarez can’t be ready for the start of the season, It’s likely that either Michael Plassmeyer or Christopher Sanchez would get his spot. Plassmeyer was super wild against the Yankees Saturday, but had looked good prior to that. Sanchez got his first start Tuesday and was not very good at all.

Thomson did admit he was a little behind in his buildup because of a minor back injury early in camp, but even with that, the Braves teed off on him, almost at will, until he was able to get out of the inning.


Just checking in to see how everyone’s favorite non-40 man roster player did today… what’s that you say, two more hits?

And this great quote from Thomson about him after Tuesday’s game:

“The upside to it (having eight guys away at the WBC) is you get to see all these guys. You see a guy like Scott Kingery, who is really playing well and looks like the old Scott Kingery again. Who knows how much opportunity he would get if all those guys were back in camp?”

Funny how this sport works sometimes.