[picappgallerysingle id="9268884"]Of course we’re stating the obvious in naming shortstop Starlin Castro the Chicago Cubs’ top newcomer of 2010. He’s got some competition on the roster, but no one who broke into the majors in recent Cubs annals the way he did.
Castro was just 20, the youngest full-time Cubs regular player in memory. Kerry Wood was 20 when he joined the rotation early in the 1998 season, but Castro was months younger than Kid K. Castro’s six-RBI big-league debut in Cincinnati was an all-time feat. Better yet, his .300 average — it was pushing .315 before he tired in the final weeks — enabled Castro to be the first rookie to lead the Cubs in hitting since Dwight Smith’s .324 in 1989. Before that, you had to go back to Bill Madlock’s .313 of 1974 — preceding the .354 and .339 that led the NL the following two seasons — as the last first-year Cub to pace the team in hitting.
To be sure, much of Castro’s game is still raw, befitting a kid who still could not take a legal drink. Huge numbers of errors must be cut down along with a fundamentally unsound approach in trying to tag base-stealers, particularly the White Sox’s Juan Pierre, at second base. He has some plate-discipline issues that obviously will be corrected with maturity. And he hung out with Alfonso Soriano as he broke in — not the easiest thing if you’re trying to get enough rest in adapting to the heavy daytime schedule at Wrigley Field.
There is little worry about Castro going forward once you got to know the kid. He may have been one of the most eager learners in the majors. He was all ears, both working in the cage with Rudy Jaramillo or out on the field with Alan Trammell and Ivan DeJesus. His listening quotient applied to learning English as a second language. Castro required a ballclub interpreter to do interviews starting out, but gradually began to shed that need as the season progressed. I once asked him coming off the field if he was comfortable enough doing an interview in English without assistance, and he immediately agreed. Castro was both comfortable both handling a new tongue and existing in his own skin.
Castro’s next challenge is not letting up just because he had success from slugging a homer in his first at-bat. The “sophomore jinx” is real. Pitchers make adjustments to a new player, who in turn must counter with fine-tuning his own game. The second year for many sizzling rookies is indeed a tripwire, with a quick, downward career path the fate for a bunch of ‘em.
For the Cubs’ sake, Castro’s continued progress will be good timing, heralding the opening of a home-grown pipeline of positions players. He was just the second Cubs-developed middle infielder (Ryan Theriot was the other in 2007, but we’re not counting Ronnie Cedeno the previous season) to come up to seize a regular’s job and keep it since Shawon Dunston in 1985. When the Brett Jacksons and Hak-Ju Lees of the world can follow Castro in succeeding years, then you know the Cubs won’t always have to overpay for free agents to plug holes in the lineup.
Unlike Lou Brock, Oscar Gamble, Gary Scott and a host of other Cubs kids of the past, Castro wasn’t rushed at all. But it will truly up to him to ensure his time has come, permanently, as an impact big leaguer going forward.