With Starlin Castro making his second appearance in the Mid-Summer Classic as an NL All-Star, it is time to look at just what the Cubs have in their 22-year-old shortstop.
He became the first major league player born in the 1990's when he was called up to the big leagues on May 7, 2010 from the Cubs Class AA affiliate in Tennessee. Castro exploded onto the major league scene by clubbing a three-run home run in his first big league at-bat off of the Cincinnati Reds' Homer Bailey and finished the night by driving in six runs, which is a major league record for a player making his debut.
Castro also finished his rookie season with 27 errors, which led the club and was second worst in the National League. He followed that up with 29 errors in 2011 as he led all major league shortstops in errors and he also had the lowest fielding percentage (.961).
Offensively, though, 2011 was a good year for Castro as he was the youngest player to ever lead the National League in hits, finishing the season with 207. Castro's jersey was sent to the Hall of Fame for his outstanding offensive performance as he hit .307 with a .341 OBP and a .432 slugging percentage and it was the first season in which he hit double digit home runs (10).
He has also come under criticism for his sometimes lackadaisical play including a memorable rant from then baseball analyst and now current Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine who blasted Castro for a lack of concentration and focus in a nationally televised game on Sunday Night Baseball in 2011.
This season, Castro forgot how many outs there were in a loss to the San Francisco Giants and Cubs manager Dale Sveum was highly critical of the gaffe, telling the media after the game, Its the last straw. If he wants to play, he better start getting his head in the game. Period. Its not acceptable. These things have got to stop happening or were just going to stop playing. These are things that my son does in high school maybe.
Castro was very apologetic after the game and took full responsibility for his mental mistake.
Its very embarrassing, Castro said. These things cant happen. I apologize to my team and everybody, because that type of thing is not supposed to happen.
However, since that game, Castro is hitting a solid .284 and he has committed four of his 13 errors on the season since June 4th when the mental mistake happened. But more importantly, he has had no mental gaffes and Sveum loves the approach his shortstop has been taking.
I think Castro is one of those young players who come around once in a while who can be as good as they want to be," he said. "His ceiling is very high and he can do things every day to help us win ball games.
Another thing that must be considered and something that I may be guilty of, is expecting too much from a 22-year-old who is still developing and maturing and underestimating the time that it takes to transition from a kid in the Dominican Republic to a superstar in a city as tough as Chicago.
I cant imagine leaving my comfort zone and being dropped into a foreign country where I knew very few people, didnt speak the language and was in the public eye in an extremely visible way.
Add in the fact that he has a ton of expectations on him and that he is the face of one of the most visible franchises in professional sports and perhaps we should all be more understanding of his development process. It doesnt mean that he is immune to criticism nor should he be. That comes with the territory when you are a professional athlete.
However, we should also be very pleased that the Cubs have a standout player with his best years still ahead of him and we should appreciate the talent that he has.
Does he need to improve various aspects of his game? Absolutely. He needs to develop more power and more importantly, his plate approach has to improve. He needs to be more selective which should in turn lead to more productive at bats, an increased number of walks and a much higher on-base percentage.
He also needs to continue to improve his defense, but he has made progress and he looks like he is a keeper at shortstop unless he continues to grow and his size forces a position change similar to what happened to Alex Rodriguez.
All in all, Castro is a star and a building block for the Cubs and while he still needs seasoning and maturation, we should celebrate his bright future and be glad that by having him its one less piece of a championship team that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have to find.