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.

First and Final Thoughts: The Brady Bunch are in Town

First and Final Thoughts: The Brady Bunch are in Town

Welcome into First and Final Thoughts, one of our weekly columns with a title that's a little too on the nose. Here we'll have Insider J.J Stankevitz and Producers Cam Ellis and Paul Aspan give some insight into what's on their minds between games.

Final Thoughts on Week 6

J.J. Stankevitz: On the surface, losing a game to your two previous offensive coordinators (Adam Gase and Dowell Loggains) and a punchline quarterback (Brock Osweiler) is rough. And undoubtedly, it is – Bears players still seemed frustrated by Sunday’s 31-28 loss to Miami on Tuesday, which would break the usual “24-hour rule” implemented by coaches. But the Bears won’t play in 88-degree temperatures all year, and their next two outdoor road games are in Buffalo (cue the lake effect snow) and East Rutherford, N.J. So that’s the good news: The Bears will have plenty of opportunities to prove that giving up all those yards and points to Miami was an aberration. This defense is far better than what it showed on Sunday.

Offensively, this is a quicker thought – Mitch Trubisky is going in the right direction, and that he was able to come out and have a strong second half (minus the end zone interception) after an uneven first 30 minutes was impressive.


Paul Aspan: “Everything points to the Bears beating the Dolphins – which scares the hell out of me.” That sentiment only grew with the news that Brock Osweiler would replace the injured Ryan Tannehill on Sunday morning. Maybe this wasn’t a trap game until that happened, but it became exactly that. The Akiem Hicks goal-line strip sack in overtime is the season-changing type of play that unlikely playoff runs are made of, but even that wasn’t enough. A pretty brutal offensive PI call turned a two score game into a Murphy’s Law spiral of turnovers, poor  no tackling, and another 4th quarter / OT let down - and not at the hands of Aaron Rodgers - by the typically stout Bears defense.


The end zone interception can’t happen, but Mitchell Trubisky showed that he is continuing to trend in the right direction especially with the go-ahead, 6-minute TD drive to give the Bears the lead with just over 3 minutes to play. As for Matt Nagy, I guess I get trying to escape with a 53-yard field goal, but if he’s going to preach “We’re going to be aggressive” all offseason, he’s gotta be more aggressive than settling for that.


Cam Ellis: Mitch Trubisky can throw the ball down field a little bit. He still leaves too many throws on the field, and yeah, that interception in the end zone was dumb; he's also only played in 17 games. Later on Sunday night, I watched Tom Brady and his 259 career games scramble around a huge pocket for like, 15 seconds before getting strip sacked and losing the ball. Mistakes are always going to happen. With that said, Trubisky's deeps balls are *gorgeous*: 



He throws into double coverage (yeah, I know, whatever) and places that ball perfectly into Taylor Gabriel's hands. The window for that pass to be completed is absurdly small, and a bunch of today's NFL QBs couldn't make that throw. And yeah, if all you had to do to be an NFL QB was throw a pretty deep ball, Jeff George and JaMarcus Russell would be Hall of Famers. But for all the flack that Trubisky gets -- a lot of which is deserved -- it's worth recognizing that he can do some things really well. 


First Thoughts on Week 7


Stankevitz:  I’ll be very interested to see on Sunday how much scheming Matt Nagy can carry over from his days in Kansas City against New England. The Chiefs ripped of 42 points against the Patriots in their season opener last year, and the Patriots’ defense doesn’t look much better this year. The Bears, of course, have different personnel, but perhaps there are certain plays or concepts that’ll work as well as they did in Kansas City in Chicago on Sunday. 

The Bears’ offense nearly picked off the defense on Sunday, and depending on Khalil Mack’s ankle may have to do so again on Sunday. And I’ll leave it at this: The NFL is weird. Just because a team looks like one of the two or three best in the league doesn’t mean they’re invincible. The Patriots are more likely to win than the Bears, but don’t discount the Bears putting together an airtight game and emerging from Tom Brady’s final trip to Chicago with a win.

Aspan: Every (rational? objective? realistic?) Bears fan circled this one as an L before the season started, but hey if the Lions can do it! Khalil Mack not being at full strength is an obvious concern, and Bill Belichick against a young QB is always going to favor New England. But we saw what the Chiefs offense just did to New England and the Bears certainly have a better defense (even if they looked like Kansas City in the second half trying to tackle Albert Wilson). One issue for the D in both losses this season has been opponents getting the ball out quick - and New England does do that quite a bit.

The most intriguing part of this matchup for me is that the Patriots are basically facing the same offense for the second straight week, while Matt Nagy has the phone-a-friend advantage. You have to imagine Nagy and Andy Reid have spent some considerable time on the phone the last two days, and if I were Nagy I would have dialed up his old OC Doug Pederson as well. As much as no one wants to talk about moral victories, playing the Patriots tough, even in a close loss, could set the tone for a strong second half against a pretty weak schedule. As far as this game is concerned, at the end of the day I still think Trubisky misses too many throws (not unlike Patrick Mahomes) to beat the Patriots.

Ellis: The Pats' offense is outstanding, and we all know what the Bears' defense brings. I think this game is going to be won on the other side of the ball, where both teams are fairly medicore. The Bears' offense ranks 14th in passing DVOA and 11th in rushing DVOA; the Pats' defense ranks 19th in pass DVOA and 13th in rushing DVOA. Can the Bears get better production in the red zone? Right now they rank a paltry 20th in points per red zone appearance (PT/RZ) at 4.72. New England has long employed a bend-don't-break defense that gives up huge chunks of "meaningless" yards before buckling down and holding teams to three. If I had to pick one specific thing that wins this game for the Bears, it'd be a smart, creative red zone game plan. You can put up points on this Patriots defense -- but settling for field goals all game is how you lose. 

NBC Sports Chicago to air "IHSA Football Playoff Pairing Show" on October 20

NBC Sports Chicago

NBC Sports Chicago to air "IHSA Football Playoff Pairing Show" on October 20

Bloomington, IL/Chicago, IL (October 17, 2018) -- The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Football Playoff Pairing Show returns to NBC Sports Chicago for its eighth season in 2018. NBC Sports Chicago – THE Home of the #AuthenticFan – will air the show live on NBC Sports Chicago+ on Saturday, October 20 from 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM CT. Viewers are urged to visit NBC Sports Chicago’s “Channel Finder” page ( for exact NBC Sports Chicago+ channel locations in their area.

The IHSA Football Playoff Pairing Show, which will reveal the brackets and first round match-ups of all 256 playoff qualifiers across eight classes, can also be viewed via Live stream beginning at 8:00 PM on Saturday at, on Facebook Live (, and will also be accessible for viewing to authenticated NBC Sports Chicago subscribers via the brand new MyTeams by NBC Sports app (NOTE: MyTeams is available on iOS and Android devices, at no cost, to fans anywhere in the U.S. and can be downloaded from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store).

"The IHSA Football Playoff Pairing Show' continues to be one of the most highly-anticipated events in the state of Illinois and we couldn't be prouder to once again showcase two-straight hours of live, interactive coverage across all platforms on Saturday night," said Kevin Cross, Vice President of Content for NBC Sports Chicago.  

NBC Sports Chicago anchor Leila Rahimi hosts the show and will be joined by a panel of experts on-set, including long-time IHSA TV announcer Dave Bernhard and Illinois high school football bracketologist Steve Soucie. IHSA TV veteran Camron Smith will breakdown each class with media members from around the state, including NBC Sports Chicago prep football expert “Edgy” Tim O’Halloran. Viewers are encouraged to interact with the show and ask questions to be answered during the program by utilizing the Twitter hashtag #IHSAbrackets

The program will once again feature highlights, coaches interviews and media analysis from all over the state. In addition, NBC Sports Chicago will be gathering teams & fan reaction moments throughout the “Land of Lincoln” on Saturday from numerous school playoff pairing parties taking place that evening.

“This is one of the most anticipated nights of the year on the IHSA calendar,” said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson. “Student-athletes, coaches and communities around the state have put their hearts into the last nine weeks, and for 256 teams, it’s an amazing chance to celebrate their accomplishments, while looking ahead to the path to the IHSA Football State Finals. We appreciate the time and effort that our partners at NBC Sports Chicago put into making this night so special.”

The IHSA Football Playoff Pairing Show kicks off NBC Sports Chicago’s playoff coverage of IHSA Football, which culminates with all eight state title games being televised and streamed by NBC Sports Chicago on Thanksgiving weekend (Nov. 23-24), live from Memorial Stadium on the University of Illinois campus in Champaign.