Starlin Castro has no more margin for error. The Chicago Cubs shortstop, once thought of as being the guy who would man that position on the North side of Chicago for solid 10 years, regressed greatly in 2013 and enters the 2014 MLB season needing to improve if he wants to be part of the Cubs’ rebuilding project. Barring a serious increase in production, there’s little reason for the Cubs to hold on to Castro that much longer, and if his numbers don’t improve, even getting rid of him will be a blow for the Cubs, since his trade value will continue to decrease.
Entering 2013, Castro seemed to have made the move from hot prospect to solid everyday player. He had hit .300, .307 and .283 in his first three MLB seasons, the latter coming when he was still just 22. With it being fair to expect improvement for a player who should have still been several years away from his prime, a big 2013 campaign should have been a certainty. Instead, Castro fell flat. While he led the National League in at-bats for the third consecutive season with 666, his numbers proved to be devilish, as his batting average plummeted to .245. More troubling was his awful on-base percentage, which cratered to .284. For good measure, he set a new personal high in strikeouts with 129.
Ideally, Castro could be a lead-off or No. 2 hitter, having shown the ability to hit .300, be a persistent extra-base hit threat (he had 55 extra-base hits in both 2011 and 2012), and be a threat on the base paths (an average of 19 stolen bases per season in his first three years). Last season, however, Castro had but nine stolen bases and his total number of extra-base hits dropped to 46. Most troubling perhaps in that department was Castro’s inability to hit triples. He belted 27 in his first three seasons, an average of nine per year. In 2013, he had two.
Castro is no Ozzie Smith defensively, but the only positive you can say about him in 2013 is that he had a career-high fielding percentage of .967 at shortstop. His 22 errors were a career-low, but Castro wasn’t brought up as a prospect who would just be a good defensive guy and hit .245. And frankly, he’s still not that good a fielder. Trade talk involving Castro swirled quietly around the Cubs last season, but now you have to wonder what MLB team would invest in his up-side, if there is any, given his struggles in just about every category in 2013. It’s fair to wonder if 2013 was the real Castro, of if it was an aberration.
The Cubs again don’t figure to contend in 2014, and maybe it’s an issue of Castro just not being interested. But entering his fifth full season already, professionalism shouldn’t be an issue for Castro. However, it’s clear from his numbers in 2013 that there are plenty of issues present. The Cubs either need to help him get these fixed, or look for another answer at shortstop.