Friday, Aug. 27, 2010
By Patrick Mooney
CINCINNATI Almost anything seemed possible that Friday night at Great American Ball Park. Starlin Castro lived up to all the hype, and Cubs fans could envision their shortstop for the next 10-to-15 years.
The 20-year-old crushed a home run in his first major-league at-bat and finished with a record-setting six RBI in his debut. The Cubs sold Castros promotion as a way to improve their overall team defense, and move Ryan Theriot to second base, where he profiled better offensively.
They entered Friday last in the National League in fielding percentage. And only one player in the majors Ian Desmond (28) had committed more errors than Castro (20), and the Washington Nationals shortstop has done that in 24 more games.
Theriot is now playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers, part of a series of moves that would have seemed unlikely if not unthinkable on May 7 in Cincinnati.
The front office thought a young player could energize the clubhouse, but didnt want to place too much on Castros shoulders, stressing that any offensive production would be a bonus.
Castro returned to the scene of his dazzling debut on Friday only five plate appearances away from qualifying for the leader board. His .315 average would otherwise rank fifth in the National League.
Since his call-up from Double-A Tennessee, he has played in 98 of the teams 99 games, and made the proper adjustments at the plate, heading into Friday hitting .371 since July 10.
We thought he (might) hit the wall, Geovany Soto said. He's the real deal. He makes the difficult play look easy. He's young, but he knows this game. He's going to make a few mistakes here and there, (but) at his age I was in A-ball.
The Cubs catcher was the 2008 N.L. Rookie of the Year, an award that will have no shortage of candidates by the end of this season. Castro will have to be in the conversation.
Atlanta Braves outfielder Jason Heyward generated much of the preseason buzz, and hes hitting .269 with 14 home runs and 57 RBI for a first-place team. Within that division, first basemen Gaby Sanchez (.2891569) and Ike Davis (.2481557) are producing for the Florida Marlins and New York Mets.
Left-hander Jamie Garcia (11-6, 2.42) is helping to keep the St. Louis Cardinals in the race. San Francisco Giants catcherfirst baseman Buster Posey (.3321049) will only play a little more than half a season, but hes doing it for a playoff contender and sometimes at the games most physically demanding position.
And then there is Tyler Colvin, who leads all rookies with 19 home runs, though his on-base percentage has dipped to .316. Thats not the type of production youre looking for in a first baseman. Manager Mike Quade isnt rushing to use Colvin at that position during a game, much less make him Derrek Lees replacement.
Hes just going to mess around there. Theres no imminent thing going on, Quade said. When Derrek left, that throws everything into a little different context for awhile.
I believe it would not affect (Colvins outfield play) at all. So why not increase his value and our ability to use him in different possibilities? But we needed to defuse the fact that this going to happen now (or) going to be every (day).
Fridays news that Stephen Strasburg is expected to undergo Tommy John surgery is a reminder how fragile young players especially pitchers can be.
After facing the Washington rookie in June, Paul Konerko, one of the most thoughtful players in baseball, was compelled to say: Hes played less than a year of pro baseball and hes as dominant, as good as anyone out there. Now Strasburg is looking at 12-to-18 months of rehabilitation, hoping he will again be able to rediscover his 100 mph stuff.
For Castro, the challenge wont be as dramatic. It will be in the details, like tagging runners, and making the routine plays, over and over again. It could take years.
You watch a veteran shortstop come in with another club who doesnt have that kind of talent, Quade said. (He) doesnt have that kind of upside anymore (like Castro, but hes) able to slow the thing down when things get sped up.
(If) its bases loaded one out (and) the people are screaming, you have to be able to (do that). It doesnt mean you nonchalant something, but in your mind youre slowing things down, which allows you to make more plays and be more consistent.
Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.