With two strikes on him, Castellanos steps out of the box, swings the bat, grimaces a little as he adjusts his helmet, then steps back up to the plate. The next pitch misses outside and so low that it kicks up dirt. He chases anyway, bat nowhere close to making contact with the ball.
This could have played out in almost any game last season. If you’re anything like me, you yelled at your TV, asking how this guy can keep chasing the same unhittable pitch over and over again.
If you peruse the comments of any article that even mentions him, including on this site, you’ll find a variety of derision and rancor directed at Castellanos. It crops up in articles not even about him. People question whether he has the work ethic to try to improve at the plate. They advocate for releasing him after a season in which he only slashed .263/.305/.694. They accuse of him of not caring.
I’m going to stick my neck out and argue Casty deserves not only a second chance from the fanbase, but also warrants some encouragement and support. No one knows what’s going to happen tomorrow, let alone over the course of 162 games plus (hopefully) a postseason run. And I’ve been wrong about more things than I’ve been right about (just ask my divorce lawyer).
But I believe that he’s going to return to form this season and play an important role in the team’s return to October ball.
Everyone agrees that last year was a low for Castellanos. Especially coming off a stellar 2021 season where he batted .309, had 100 RBIs, and hit 34 home runs, his performance in 2022 felt like a let down. We expected an All-Star. Instead, we were delivered disappointment. Castellanos acknowledged as much, saying that he felt, in his words, “pissed off, unhappy, frustrated.”
Nick Castellanos was “pissed off, unhappy, frustrated” last year in his first #Phillies season. But he enters camp comfortable for the first time in a long time. If it helps him return to form, the Phils lineup looks even more dangerous. https://t.co/Dq78rfdL3B— Todd Zolecki (@ToddZolecki) February 19, 2023
With all of that said, this year he seems serious about improving at the plate. He’s working with Kevin Long and trying new approaches. He says that standing closer to the plate has helped him stop chasing those down and away pitches, and moving further up in the box allows him to get to sliders higher in the zone.
His plate discipline seems to have improved. In 31 Spring Training plate appearances, he’s walked seven times. He’s laying off the low and away balls that were the bane of his 2022 season.
In February he told reporters, “I know how I feel sitting in this chair now, and I know how I felt sitting in this chair last year, and I like the person sitting in this chair much better.” Castellanos comes off as much more relaxed than he did last year. In the same interview he spoke about what has changed since last year that will make a difference going into 2023, from being familiar with the local reporters to knowing the coaches and his teammates, to knowing where he’s living.
Other off-the-field issues likely took his head out of the game. In May, he and his wife had a baby. A local sports radio program leaked his address, which as you can imagine caused him and his family unneeded stress.
And there was the whole thing where the address in question once belonged to Ben Simmons, which meant the place had bad vibes or something, I guess. Castellanos’s mother cleansed the house with an energy cleansing smudge kit, presumably to assuage the superstitious fears of some fans, so you can rest easy if you’re into that kind of thing. I’m not, but to each their own. Of course, my oldest daughter says she dreamt that Casty will have a bounce-back MVP season and insists that she can manifest it, so there’s that.
Brought a house warming gift pic.twitter.com/LqKDT2IP7N— Michelle Castellanos (@michcast05) April 7, 2022
Haunted houses and premonitions aside, those other intangibles can make a difference. Finding stability and familiarity allows him to better concentrate on what he’s doing on the field. You can argue that these are nothing more than excuses, and that for $20m a year he needs to get his head straight and perform at a level that warrants us paying for tickets or an MLB.tv subscription. And voicing such contentions is perfectly reasonable. But the guys who take the field each day for our entertainment are human beings who deal with pressure and stress just like the rest of us, and like us they deal with it in their own ways. They are not robots. They’re people. Life off the field will effect how they perform on the field. Players will have a down year.
It’s also worth considering that his 2022 season may not have been nearly as dreadful as some make it out to be. Before he went on the IL with turf toe, Castellanos was starting to do some real damage at the plate. During the regular season, he slashed .263/.305/.694, which is pretty far from disastrous.
And say what you will about his defense, his efforts in the outfield during the postseason were nothing short of heroic.
From what we’ve seen of Castellanos so far this spring, he seems more relaxed, more at home. In interviews and in the batter’s box, there’s an easiness about him. He looks happy, excited. As Todd Zolecki pointed out, he seems comfortable, and “[c]omfortable is good.” I expect the serenity he’s found to translate to him hitting close to .280 next year and playing an integral role in Philly’s road to another Red October.
Of course, I could be wrong.
But I’m betting on the 2023 Castellanos Redemption Tour.
Edit: The original version of this story stated that his wife cleansed the house with an energy cleansing smudge kit, which is incorrect. It was actually his mother, Michelle, who you should follow on Twitter. Thank you to those in the comments who pointed out the error - I appreciate you!