In 2010, at the tender age of 20, Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro batted .300 across 465 at bats. A year later, his average rose to .307 and he lead the league in at bats (674) and hits (207) while earning his first career spot on the National League All Star Team. Last year, in just his third MLB season, Castro’s average dipped to .283 and his on-base percentage fell to .323 (20 points lower than the previous two seasons), and people seemed to get a little tense when regarding him as a “superstar in the making” like what seemed so automatic to regard him as during his rookie and sophomore season. Was his seven year, $60 million contract extension in August a bit overzealous? Absolutely not.
In reality, Castro made bigger improvement in his 2012 campaign than any other despite the fact that some of his numbers dropped. Here’s why Castro’s ability will continue to shape and mold him into one of the most valuable players in the MLB in 2013 and beyond:
It’s not often a player shows signs of success right out of the gate and at such a young age like Castro did. Even in his rookie season, Castro showed more confidence in his approach at the plate than any other hitter in the Cubs lineup, with the exception of maybe Aramis Ramirez. Castro had advanced to the Double-A level by the time most people are graduating high school, and skipped right over Triple-A in his promotion to the big league roster. His numbers in his first two seasons, despite being two years younger, are comparable to Derek Jeter‘s when the New York Yankees shortstop first broke into the league. Jeter hit .314 and .291, respectively, and 10 home runs both years. We must keep in my mind, however, that Jeter was protected by a much better all-around Yankee lineup whereas Castro already gets pitched around in key situations.
Castro has already proved that he can hit for average, and most of his power numbers have increased in each of his first three seasons. His home run totals (3,10,14) and triple count (5,9,12) have risen in succession with each year. He displayed improved speed in 2012 with 25 steals, and his defense has, without a doubt, gotten better since his rookie year when he looked lost at shortstop. His arm is pretty strong and it should only get stronger as his body continues to develop. Whether Castro does eventually make the transition to third base in response to the downfall of Josh Vitters and the abundance of young shortstop talent in the Cubs system, his rising ability to hit for power and improved defense will not hurt his value to the club at all.
Knock on wood, but Castro has proven in his young age that he doesn’t need a day off to continually perform at a higher level. He played in every single game in 2012 and only missed four in 2011. The longer he can stay healthy at this stage in his career, the more beneficial it will be to his development. The more at bats Castro can get, the more he will improve, plain and simple. He’s added size and strength every offseason, which will continue to make Castro durable while improving his power at the same time.
Cool, Calm, and Collected
Aside from the inevitable mental lapses expected for any player his age, Castro has shown an impressive ability to stay grounded, whether he hit a huge home run in a key spot or booted a groundball to allow a run to score. He never seems nervous at the plate, and to rise to the occasion of playing shortstop everyday at Wrigley Field at such a young age is something to take note of. Castro has proven that he can get the clutch hit when the team needs it, and I look for him to be a team leader in 2013 and beyond.
The entire baseball world knows that young stud shortstop Javier Baez is quickly climbing the ranks and getting closer to the MLB, but let’s not for one moment expect that to change the role Castro will have on the Cubs’ future years of contention. The front office made it more than clear how highly they think of Castro when they brought him under team control through 2019 (with an option for ’20). Now that Castro can breath easy when it comes to the certainty of his long-term future, I expect a breakout year from him this year. My projected stat line for Castro: .315 BA, 25 HR, 25-30 SB, 90 RBI