Cubs

Cubs expect bigger and better season from Castro

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Cubs expect bigger and better season from Castro

Monday, March 14, 2011
Posted: 9:07 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

PEORIA, Ariz. The marketing department at 1060 W. Addison St. wants to promote Starlin Castro as the next Derek Jeter.

They paired the two homegrown shortstops on billboards modeled after heavyweight prize fights: Cubs vs. Yankees, June 17-19 at Wrigley Field.

Jeter, a Madison Avenue icon, has his own brand. Hes built a gigantic new mansion in Tampa, Fla., that The New York Times said was about as big as a typical Best Buy store, his own St. Jetersburg.

Castro, who turns 21 next week, had his parents fly in from the Dominican Republic to live with him during spring training.

Cubs baseball staffers use the Jeter analogy in a much different context. They tell you to look up how many errors Jeter committed in the minors. That tension between patience and expectations can be felt through the entire organization.

Whats overlooked sometimes is the sense that teammates genuinely like the kid. Heres what you heard Saturday in the HoHoKam Park clubhouse after Castro hit his second home run in Las Vegas:

Do it, Starlin!

Thats whats Im talking about, Cassie!

They were hooting and hollering while watching the split-squad game on TV. By the end of the weekend, Castro was hitting .485 with a .500 on-base percentage and an .848 slugging percentage, numbers that put him among the Cactus League leaders.

Hes not missing (and) hes using the whole field, manager Mike Quade said. Youd like to think hes maturing. (Hes) a talented young hitter thats getting better.

Castro also left Las Vegas with a bruised right knee that isnt considered serious. At this point, the Cubs are more concerned with his mental adjustments.

Almost two weeks ago, Quade met with Castro about demanding a more intense approach in his practice sessions. That meant doing infield work at game speed and running the bases with a purpose. It just got buried because it happened on the same day Carlos Silva and Aramis Ramirez nearly fought in the dugout.

Is it inexperience? Is it concentration or focus? Quade told reporters that day. Im not interested in panicking, but (lets) be sure you understand (whats important).

These mistakes happen to everyone. Castros are just magnified because of the team he plays for and the market he works in now.

Jeter was about a month away from his 21st birthday when he made his big-league debut, and he finished his first full season in the majors at age 22. He was allowed to commit 133 errors in the minors.

Long before he became famous for dating Hollywood starlets, Jeter made 56 errors in 126 games for the 1993 Class-A Greensboro Hornets.

At age 20, Castro was involved in so much, so soon that it was hard to tell where his ceiling might be. The Cubs downplayed his offensive potential and assured everyone that he would be a huge defensive upgrade over Ryan Theriot.

Castros 27 errors last season second-most among all major-league players should be the quickest fix to his game. He hit only nine home runs in 995 career minor-league at-bats, but flashed signs of power in 125 games with the Cubs: 31 doubles; five triples; and three homers.

Hes a young kid with a lot of talent, said Augie Ojeda, the 36-year-old infielder who was brought into camp to help mentor Castro. (Hes) so gifted and the futures so bright for him. Hes got to keep working at it and the skys the limit.

Castros already responded to being benched last September. He made enough adjustments at the plate to finish last season hitting .300. His month-to-month splits reveal someone trying to figure things out: .310; .227; .361; .336; .215.

On an aging roster filled with veterans over 30, and in a lineup that at times struggled to score runs last season, Castro is one player who can get better in a hurry. Castros teammates dont believe in the hype to sell tickets. They know he will help them win games.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.

Podcast: In light of recent hitting coach turmoil, who’s to blame for Cubs offensive struggles?

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USA TODAY

Podcast: In light of recent hitting coach turmoil, who’s to blame for Cubs offensive struggles?

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Luke Stuckmeyer and Tony Andracki discuss the comments Chili Davis made after being fired as Cubs hitting coach, ask if the Cubs struggles on offense were Davis' fault or the players and what Anthony Iapoce will be walking into as he tries to gets the team back on track a the plate.

 

Listen to the entire podcast here, or in the embedded player below: