Why Starlin Castro is the building block for Theo Epstein


Why Starlin Castro is the building block for Theo Epstein

Every time Starlin Castro makes a mental mistake, it seems to become an instant referendum on his future, like he should be traded tomorrow.

Theres also the runaway hype. Even Hall of Famer Ernie Banks had this reaction when Castro was named to the All-Star team last summer: Hes better than me.

Lets settle at the midpoint: Castro wont be Mr. Cub or an ex-Cub anytime soon.

On Friday, Bobby Valentine will be exactly where Cubs people thought he wanted to be when he blasted Castro on television last season from the ESPN broadcast booth in the Wrigley Field dugout.

Except Valentine will be managing the Boston Red Sox.

That Bobby V moment came up when Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer interviewed Dale Sveum last fall: As a manager, how do you keep your shortstops head in the game?

As Epstein begins dismantling this team and bringing in his own players, while Cubs ownership tries to copy the Red Sox model, the thing to do is wondering whether Castro can be a player to build around, when the answer is obvious.

Remember that the 22-year-old shortstop is younger than top prospects Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson and appears to be on his way to his third .300 season in the big leagues.

Youth sometimes holds this back, Sveum said, but its just a matter of making him understand that hes got to make people around him better all the time. You only do that one way by work ethic, trying to be a leader on a consistent basis on the field.

When Epstein fired hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo this week, citing a new message of selective aggressiveness and more plate discipline, the natural follow-up question involved how Castro would fit into The Cubs Way.

Were not trying to cookie cutter our hitters, Epstein said. Usually, hitters are sort of naturally patient or naturally aggressive and its hard to necessarily change that, especially at the big-league level. I think most of that is hard wiring. Thats just an innate quality that youre born with or develop.

(It) may be more (telling) in Little League the type of hitter youre going to be than (what) you do in the big leagues. But we spend an awful lot of time trying to make some progress on that front and try to teach the right approach in the minor leagues and that doesnt stop in the big leagues.

Castro has walked only six times this season, posting a .308 on-base percentage thats nowhere near what the front office expects it to be in the future.

Starlin is an aggressive hitter, Epstein said. You tend to see hitters develop some patience naturally as they get more experience at the big-league level. So hes a very accomplished hitter, but hes still relatively inexperienced. Theres a good chance that youre going to see his on-base totals continue to increase as he works toward his prime.

Most players his age are in Double-A trying to figure out how to get on base against Double-A pitching, and hes doing it in the big leagues. Hes always going to be an aggressive hitter, but I think as he develops more power, and I think that will happen, pitchers will be more careful with him and then hell adjust back and be a little more patient.

Sveum appeared to be running out of patience when Castro forgot how many outs there were on June 4 in San Francisco. But the manager didnt bench his best player.

Its the nature of playing nine innings for 162 games, Sveum said. Theres going to be some mental breakdowns with everybody.

We magnify a lot of things that other veterans do throughout the league, too. Just watch SportsCenter and you see a lot of veterans sometimes do a lot worse things than Castros done.

There are really only two ways to view this Cubs season, from an altitude of 10,000 feet or under the microscope.

Take a moment from last Sunday at Target Field. Castro watched a groundball bounce off his glove. Instead of giving up on the play, he pounced on the ball in the outfield grass.

The throw wasnt a straight rocket Castro looked more like Joe Montana rolling right but it dropped right into catcher Koyie Hills glove and nailed Minnesotas Trevor Plouffe at home plate.

Pitcher Ryan Dempster watched the play unfold.

As soon as the ball got away from him, he hustled right after it, Dempster said. He made a really unbelievable throw if you look at it, from his back foot, throwing a strike to home plate. Thats the kind of ability he has, and I think thats why people harp on him so much about his attention out there on the field, because his ability to not only do it at the plate, (but) out in the field as well.

He has a chance to be a really, really special player.

Theres no doubt Epstein understands how rare it is to have an elite shortstop. After trading Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs in a four-team deal on July 31, 2004, the Red Sox won their forever World Series with Orlando Cabrera.

Between 2005 and 2012, the Red Sox used six different shortstops on Opening Day Edgar Renteria, Alex Gonzalez, Julio Lugo, Jed Lowrie, Marco Scutaro, Mike Aviles and traded away Hanley Ramirez in the Josh Beckett-Mike Lowell deal.

You shouldnt discount the mental toughness it took to get here this fast. With Epstein and Valentine watching, know that Castro plans to keep coming back stronger.

Exactly, thats what I do, Castro said. Right now, if something happens, I dont get frustrated in my head. If youre thinking about it too much, maybe the next play youre supposed to make (you) make an error. So I keep my head up.

Matt Nagy calls Kevin White a 'great weapon' with a new future

Matt Nagy calls Kevin White a 'great weapon' with a new future

Former first-round pick Kevin White hasn't caught a break -- or a touchdown -- through the first three years of his career. He has more season-ending injuries than 100-yard games and after an offseason focused on upgrades at wide receiver, White's future in Chicago beyond 2018 is very much in doubt.

Ryan Pace declined the fifth-year option in White's rookie contract, making this a prove-it year for the pass-catcher who once resembled a blend of Larry Fitzgerald and Dez Bryant during his time at West Virginia.

He's getting a fresh start by new coach Matt Nagy.

"He is healthy and he's really doing well," Nagy told Danny Kanell and Steve Torre Friday on SiriusXM's Dog Days Sports. "We're trying to keep him at one position right now so he can focus in on that."

White can't take all the blame for his 21 catches, 193 yards and zero scores through 48 possible games. He's only suited up for five. Whether it's bad luck or bad bone density, White hasn't had a legitimate chance to prove, on the field, that he belongs.

Nagy's looking forward, not backward, when it comes to 2015's seventh pick overall.

"That's gone, that's in the past," Nagy said of White's first three years. "This kid has a new future with us."

White won't be handed a job, however.

"He's gotta work for it, he's gotta put in the time and effort to do it," Nagy said. "But he will do that, he's been doing it. He's a great weapon, he's worked really hard. He has great size, good speed. We just want him to play football and not worry about anything else."

Nagy on Trubisky: 'He wants to be the best'

Nagy on Trubisky: 'He wants to be the best'

The Bears concluded their second round of OTAs on Thursday with the third and final set of voluntary sessions scheduled for May 29-June 1. Coach Matt Nagy is bringing a new and complicated system to Chicago, so the time spent on the practice field with the offense and quarterback Mitch Trubisky has been invaluable.

"We’ve thrown a lot at Mitch in the last 2 ½ months,” Nagy told Dog Days Sports’ Danny Kanell and Steve Torre on Friday. “He’s digested it really well.”

Nagy’s implementing the same system he operated with the Chiefs, an offense that brought the best out of Redskins quarterback Alex Smith. The former first-overall pick went from potential draft bust to MVP candidate under Andy Reid and Nagy’s watch.

Nagy admitted he and his staff may have been a little too aggressive with the amount of information thrust upon Trubisky so far.  It took five years to master the offense in Kansas City, he said, but the first-year head coach sees a lot of similarities between his current and past quarterbacks.

"These guys are just wired differently,” Nagy said when comparing Trubisky to Smith. “With Mitch, the one thing that you notice each and every day is this kid is so hungry. He wants to be the best. And he’s going to do whatever he needs to do. He’s so focused.”

Smith had the best year of his career in 2017 and much of the credit belongs to Nagy, who served as Smith’s position coach in each season of his tenure in Kansas City. He threw for eight touchdowns and only two interceptions during the five regular season games that Nagy took over play-calling duties last year.

Nagy said Trubisky has a similar attention to detail that Smith brought to the Chiefs’ quarterback room.

"Each and every detail that we give him means something. It’s not just something he writes down in a book. He wants to know the why,” Nagy said of Trubisky. “He’s a good person that is in this for the right reason. His teammates absolutely love him. It was the same thing with Alex [Smith] in Kansas City.”

A locker room that believes in its quarterback is a critically important variable for success, one that Nagy already sees exists in Chicago.

"When you have that as a coach and when you have that as being a quarterback, not everybody has that, and when you have that you’re in a good spot.”