When it comes to baseball in South Florida, anything Alex Fernandez touches turns to gold.
After going from a Golden Spikes award winner in Miami-Dade College to winning the 1997 World Series with the Marlins, Fernandez currently runs baseball operations in Archbishop McCarthy High School and has instantly turned the Mavericks into a prep baseball superpower upon his arrival in 2008.
And finally, the fruit of his seven-year labor has emerged as the everyday major league third baseman with the Detroit Tigers.
Nick Castellanos is the true definition of a protégé. He knew Fernandez and his son of the same namesake since he was five years old, when Fernandez and his beloved Florida Marlins won the World Series 1997.
After winning the state championship with American Heritage as a sophomore in 2008, he wanted to leave the school and Fernandez’s Archbishop McCarthy program was the first option.
“We’re really good friends,” Castellanos said of the junior Fernandez. “Ever since I was little. He wanted us to come over and we saw what they were doing with the program and we were set to go.”
They went on to win the state championship in 2010, which started the school’s four-year dynasty. He signed a letter of intent to go to the University of Miami but was selected by the Tigers with the 44th pick of the 2010 MLB Draft.
After three years as their top hitting prospect, Castellanos is now on a Tigers team with outfielder J.D. Martinez and catcher Alex Avila, who were once rivals during their high school days in Broward – with Martinez coming out on top twice in 2005-06.
“I never been to college before so I can’t tell you how a fraternity is but there is an instant connection you have with somebody," Castellanos said.
Being coached by a ten-year MLB veteran had Castellanos ready for the pros, even as a teenager.
“He’ll explain to me on different situations how to approach and how to handle things just because he’s done it as a pitcher,” Castellanos said. “If you can get into the mind of a pitcher, it’s gonna make you a better hitter."
On top of that, Fernandez said he taught Castellanos how to handle himself as a professional and other intangibles that scouts look for in a prospect. He’s done a lot in South Florida, but seeing one of his own in the Major Leagues is on the top of the list.
The Tigers originally traded Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers not because their CEO, Dave Dombrowski, is a future teller and could foresee the slugging first baseman’s impending neck injury, but because he had faith in Fernandez’s protégé.
Right now Castellanos is hitting .235 with a .637 OPS, but every month he is on the active roster is an indication of the Tigers exercising patience with the rookie, knowing that he'll eventually come to his own as a star and be the missing piece to their championship puzzle.
“It’s special,” Fernandez said. “It makes me proud that we were part of his path.”