CLEARWATER, Fla. — This would be a good time for Nick Castellanos to start earning that $100 million.
Rhys Hoskins ripped a two-out RBI single past the third baseman and drove in Kyle Schwarber with the first run against the Detroit Tigers on Thursday. It was one more glorious moment in a spectacular spring for a player in a contract year, on the cusp of cashing in on his prodigious talents.
Five pitches later, Castellanos struck out, feebly and unremarkably.
Six pitches after that Austin Williams topped a groundball at Hoskins. He retreated behind the grass next to first base, and inexplicably, collapsed, holding his left knee. He remained on the ground for at least 5 minutes before a cart removed him from the field.
RBI. Whiff. Collapse.
A future in jeopardy.
A spotlight shifted.
It was a jarring turn of events.
Just like that, Hoskins, the Phillies’ most dangerous right-handed hitter of the past few seasons, joined Bryce Harper, the most dangerous lefty, on the sidelines. Harper had offseason elbow surgery.
Just like that, a white-hot spotlight shifted to Castellanos.
His first-inning at-bat was precisely the sort of plate appearance that he’d so often delivered in 2022, the first season of a five-year contract that will pay him $100 million. Castellanos hid in a lineup that saw Hoskins, Schwarber, J.T. Realmuto, and Harper rank in the top eight spots of most key offensive categories.
He can’t hide any more.
If the Phillies hope to field a potent lineup, they cannot endure more impotence from Castellanos.
It’s on Casty
The Phillies were already operating at a deficit. Harper will miss the first two or three months recovering from Tommy John surgery he delayed until after last season.
The Phillies paid free agent Trea Turner $300 million this offseason to help offset the loss of Harper. Turner is a shortstop with good power — for a shortstop. He hit 49 homers the past two seasons, his best two full seasons combined. Harper, a two-time MVP, hit 75 homers in his two best seasons.
Hoskins hit 57 the past two seasons, 30 last year, then added six in the playoffs. He is what he is, and that is very, very good.
If Hoskins misses significant time, the Phillies cannot realistically expect much more Turner; nor from Realmuto, who had his best full season in 2022; nor from Schwarber, who led the league with a career-high 46 homers in 2022.
The Phillies might get right-handed help from third baseman Alec Bohm, who had 13 homers last season but already has four this spring. They might get consistent power from Darick Hall, who hit nine homers in bench duty last season as a rookie and who leads the team with five homers this spring. Hall’s natural position is first base, but Hall already was slated to be the team’s regular designated hitter until Harper returned.
Hall and Bohm, who has played less than three full seasons, largely are unknown factors.
Castellanos is a known — for better or worse.
Castellanos hit 13 homers last year, his fewest in eight seasons. His .694 OPS was the worst of any of his 10 seasons. He had no homers and a .478 OPS in the Phillies’ run through the World Series.
He was coincidental to that success. He must be integral to any success this season. The potential is there.
Castellanos hit 61 homers in 2019 and 2021, his two best seasons combined. His 34 homers in his 2021 All-Star season convinced the Phillies to exceed the luxury tax for the first time last spring.
Then … thud. He even fouled out and made the last out of the last game of the World Series. He was a resounding disappointment.
“This was one of the hardest baseball years that I’ve had,” Castellanos said after that game.
New contract. New city. New home. Lockout-shortened short spring training. Then, a few weeks into the season, a new baby.
You know. Life. A great life. The life every ballplayer dreams of having.
So far, for Castellanos in Philly, things have been something of a nightmare.
Castellanos swung at the first pitch he saw in his second at-bat Thursday and legged out an infield single. He grounded out weakly in his third appearance.
These are baby steps. Baby steps are not enough.
Castellanos needs to make giant strides if the Phillies hope to survive the first two months of 2023.