Cubs

Leading off, Castro only scratching the surface

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Leading off, Castro only scratching the surface

Sunday, April 3, 2011Posted: 3:00 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Starlin Castro glided to his left and leaned down to grab the bouncing ball. The shortstop spun and had one foot planted on the edge of the outfield, his momentum carrying him past second base.

Castro had trouble gripping the ball in the 41-degree cool of Wrigley Field. But he saw first base and made an accurate throw. Carlos Pena swiped it out of the air after one hop, just before the runner stepped on the bag.

The Cubs still have to account for more than 4,000 outs this season. But the first play on Opening Day a chopper up the middle reinforced everything the Cubs think about their 21-year-old shortstop.

For Castro, there will be many ups and downs across these 162 games. Sundays 5-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates was a microcosm, filled with moments that can be electrifying and easy to second-guess.

Initially, Mike Quade didnt want to overload Castro with leadoff responsibilities. It took two games before the manager changed his mind. From the top of Sundays lineup, Castro went 3-for-4 with two triples. He crushed one 400 feet off the top of the brick wall in center, and smashed the other up the third-base line.

Anywhere you put him, he looks good, Alfonso Soriano said, because hes got so much talent.

That makes it hard to rip Castro for the split-second decision he made with one out in Sundays ninth inning. The Cubs were clinging to a one-run lead and the Pirates had runners on second and third when Castro charged a soft groundball hit by Pedro Alvarez.

Castro didnt go home and he didnt hang onto it. His throw to first pulled Pena off the bag, allowing two runs to score. Quade reserved judgment on that play, saying that hed have to take another look.

The manager also admitted that he doesnt see leadoff as a regular thing for Castro, who will likely hit second on Monday. But its a clear sign of how much the shortstop has grown.

He acts like hes been here for years and I mean that in a good way, Pena said. Im talking about the way he goes about his at-bat, (how) he is so calm, regardless of the situation. (He) takes his pitches and when he gets a good (one) he takes an aggressive swing with an incredible confidence.

Yet Im also impressed with the fact that he doesnt seem to know how good he is. (I) like that humility in him, (how) hes working out there every day. Hes here early. He respects everyone (and) he respects the game, (yet) we all know the potential this kid has.

The Cubs are trying to find the balance in Castros rookie season a .300 average weighed against 27 errors. They want him to slow the game down, to know how fast the runner is and realize how much time he has on each play.

Quade benched Castro for a few games last September. The manager also met with the shortstop about his practice habits in early March. Castro hasnt tuned out his coaches, or backed down from the challenge.

Once again, were talking about a 21-year-old kid, Quade said. I cant lose sight of that fact. Instead of me getting irritated all the time, I probably ought to recognize that hes still a very young player.

Castros birth certificate shouldnt be an excuse for mental lapses, but it is good for an occasional reminder. While his game matures, his English has improved to the point where hes doing some interviews without an interpreter at his side.

You also noticed Castro sitting in a laundry cart on Sunday morning in the clubhouse, chatting with Soriano and Marcos Mateo. He didnt exactly feel out of place last year, but now he knows he belongs.

I feel really comfortable because they look at me as a player, not a rookie, Castro said. (I get) a little more respect.

The Cubs are stuck with players getting paid for past performance and not necessarily future results. That doesnt make them unique. Thats how compensation works in professional sports.

But for the Cubs to contend, they will need players to exceed expectations. A huge year from Castro could change their offensive profile. Maybe this is foreshadowing he went 8-for-13 (.615) and scored four runs in the opening series.

You can wonder whether Castro will hit first or second, but thats probably missing the point. He has the potential to be a No. 3 hitter, an anchor in the lineup, almost everything out of the marketing departments dreams.

The skys the limit, Pena said. We may be seeing one of the best up-and-coming shortstops in the game. Im just happy to have a good seat to watch him play.

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

Albert Almora Jr. gave another example of his all-around game

Albert Almora Jr. gave another example of his all-around game

Albert Almora Jr. might be in the middle of a breakout season. The 24-year-old outfielder continues to show his impressive range in center field and is having his best year at the plate.

In Sunday's 8-3 win against the Giants, Almora had three hits and showed off his wheels in center to rob Evan Longoria of extra bases. The catch is visible in the video above.

"Defensively, right now he's playing as well as he possibly can," Maddon said.

On top of the defense he has become known for, he is hitting .326. That's good for fifth in the National League in batting.

"He's playing absolutely great," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He's working good at-bats. His at-bats have gotten better vs. righties.

"The thing about it, is there's power there. The home runs are gonna start showing up, too."

There's also this stat, which implies Almora is having a growing significance on the Cubs as a whole:

There may be some correlation, but not causality in that. However, with Almora's center field play and growing accolades at the plate, the argument is becoming easier and easier that he is one of the most important players on the Cubs. That also goes for Almora's regular spot in the lineup, which has been up in the air with Maddon continuing to juggle the lineup.

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Why can't a trade be looked at as a win-win? 

There doesn't always have to be a clear winner and loser.

Prior to Jose Quintana taking the ball for Saturday's game against the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field, Joe Maddon was asked about the players (Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease) the Cubs gave up to acquire Quintana as well as the deal with the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman in July 2016.

Gleyber Torres is absolutely killing it in New York, hitting .323 with a 1.014 OPS, 9 homers and 24 RBI in only 29 games. Six of those homers have come in the last week alone. 

With the White Sox, both Jimenez and Cease have found success in Double-A and Advanced Class-A, respectively.

Jimenez is hitting .331 with a .992 OPS, 9 homers and 35 RBI in 35 games. Cease is 6-2 with a 2.83 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 57 strikeouts in 47.2 innings.

As the Cubs work to get their offense settled into a consistent groove, some Cubs fans have been looking at what might've been with guys like Torres and Jimenez.

"You can't have it both ways, man," Maddon said. "I'm happy for Gleyber. When he left, we talked about it. And we talked about the kids that went to the White Sox. It's good stuff. 

"I'm really disappointed if anybody's disappointed in the fact we won the World Series in 2016 and the fact that the guy we're talking about that we had to give up Gleyber for was so instrumental in that happening. That's bad process if you're gonna get stuck on something like that. Be happy for Gleyber. Be happy for him."

Maddon has been a fan of Torres' since he saw him in spring training in 2015, Maddon's first year in the Cubs organization.

"This kid's 21, with high, high baseball intellect," Maddon said. "He's very similar to Javy on the field. I've had some great conversations with him in the past. 

"The first time I saw him in spring training, I thought this guy's for real. It was like one at-bat, line drive to RF, I said who is this guy? And then you have a conversation with him. He's solid."

Maddon's point is a great one — would Cubs fans prefer to still have Torres and NOT have the 2016 World Series championship? Because that title doesn't happen without Chapman, regardless of how you feel about him as a person or what the Cubs had to give up to acquire him.

"Don't play that game," Maddon said. "Be happy for [Torres]. I'm gonna be happy when Eloy and Dylan make it up here. All these dudes, I want them to get here and be really good. And the guys that we get, I want them to be really good. 

"I don't understand why somebody's gotta lose all the time. This is an absolute classic example of what was good for both teams."