Starlin Castro is growing up before our eyes

Yesterday was an atypical Cubs day for me.  It was cool, the rain drizzled on us all day long, and the game was moving at a snail's pace.  It wasn't a game that lent itself to my usual observations of the play on the field.  I brought my little nephew along and I was happy to divide my attention between watching the Cubs and keeping my nephew entertained, who's main concern was getting his hands on a giant cookie and a hot chocolate.

So I made my choice that this game was going to be about the kids, namely my nephew and Starlin Castro. By the end of the game, I'm not sure I was willing to lump Castro in that kid category anymore.

The first thing you notice about Castro is his confident gait up to the plate.  He is completely in his element.  There is no trace of doubt in his mind as he steps up there.  He gives the pitcher no reason to believe he's the least bit worried.   He's as cool as they come.  Chipper Jones once described his attitude at the plate as "necessary arrogance".  I saw the same thing with Castro.  Confidence?  Check.

The next thing you notice is the crack of the bat when he makes contact.  Even my wife, a casual fan, noticed it.  After watching the Astros hit in the 1st inning, she noted that the ball just sounds different when Castro hits it.  Indeed it did.  Castro's double looked like it was shot out of a rocket launcher.  Even though it was hit on a direct line to the left fielder, he had no chance to catch up to it as it sailed over his head.  Emerging power?  Check.

I also watched him closely in the field.  At no point did he look distracted. He was focused all the way, whether it was during the at-bat, in between pitches or in between innings.  The incident with Bobby Valentine could have taken him in a number of different directions.  He could have pouted, he could have ignored it, he could have lashed out at Valentine -- but he didn't.  He was humble and he learned from it and it showed on the field yesterday.  Willingness to learn from his mistakes?  Check.

What's more, he had one AB yesterday where he worked the count full.  Then on the next offering, he swung at a slider low and away to strike out.  It made me upset but then I really noticed is that it made Castro equally upset with himself.  He wasn't demonstrative in a Zambrano-like way, but he was clearly bothered that he chased that ball.   The next time they tried to approach him low and away a couple of ABs later, Castro took them all and walked on 4 pitches.  Ability to adjust?  Check.

As far as what kind of teammate Castro is, he told the Sun-Times today that while he's immensely enjoying his personal achievements.  He also said this about the Cubs season overall,

“It’s not good. It’s better when the team wins. "

Castro said he will miss his teammates Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano, as well as the coaches if they are gone next season but seems to understand it could be necessary as the team tries to improve.  Team first attitude?  Check.

Overall in the second half, Castro has just gotten better.  He's hit for more power and his consistency on defense has improved.  What's especially been encouraging is that his plate discipline seems to be improving of late.  Pitchers are no longer going right after Castro as they did when he was a rookie and for the early part of this year.  They're working carefully and Castro is beginning to realize he isn't always going to get that great pitch to hit.  The result is that he's had 7 walks in the last 7 games.  Whether that's a new trend or a statistical  aberration remains to be seen, but I'm leaning toward the former right now.  At least that's what I'm getting from my personal observations.

What we're seeing with Castro is a professional who's willing to work hard, adjust, and learn from his mistakes.  We see a ballplayer who is learning to see the big picture while paying attention to detail -- as well as someone who is beginning to understand the game is a business while still retaining his youthful joy for the game.

In other words he's growing up right before our very eyes.

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  • Great article. And as you know, I'm about as big of a Starlin fan as there is. Enough so that if I don't have time to watch a full game when it's on TV(I only get the WGN games and the occasional ESPN), I'll make sure just to watch his atbats.

    I believe the walking thing is a trend for the future. A coach probably finally said to him "you need to walk more" and he said "ok".

    The slider away is probably his biggest weakness right now, and he knows it too, and shows the frustration with himself when he goes for them. He'll learn he can't hit those though. I'm hoping that next season he'll be able to make better contact on balls on the outer edge of the plate and put them into right field.

    Another example of his power would be the leadoff homerun in Milwaukee, or the LF line drive into the basket against Pittsburgh at Wrigley.

    Maybe he'll break out next season.

  • In reply to Cameron Macpherson:

    Thanks Cameron!

    I'm optimistic about his abilty to walk in the future. He has good pitch recognition and that's a big key. It's just a matter of him becoming more selective -- especially on that slider away.

    I think he has a big year next year.

  • Great firsthand account!

    The next thing I'm looking at from Castro is leadership. When the old vets on this team leave here shortly, the Cubs are going to need a young leader. You can't count on free agents to fill that void.

  • In reply to ChiRy:

    Thanks ChiRy! Vocal leadership will come a little later, I think. I do think he can already start being a leader by example -- by his work ethic and by how he is constantly working to get better.

  • Sandberg had trouble with the low and away slider throughout much of his career as well. I just like the approach at the plate that, as John points out, has matured as the year has gone on.
    The power that used to come in the form of gap doubles is now maturing as well ... the HR that stands out in my mind was the long drive to deep left center on the recent trip to Cincy.
    The 1st inning double WOW had he gotten any lift on that ball it was long gone.

  • In reply to MoneyBoy:

    That Cincy HR, as you and Cameron have pointed on, was a prodigious blast. Incredible that it was done by a 190 lb SS. He can put as much distance on a HR as anyone on the Cubs right now. I think as he matures we're going to see 20 HR power consistently from him.

    Good point about Sandberg. He did chase that low and away pitch often, often either missing it or just pulling a ground ball right at the SS. If that winds up being his only weakness, he'll be okay -- but it seems to me he would love to shore that up too.

  • 4+ WAR for Starlin next season? He's put up a 3 WAR season this year, and he's steadily improving as a player.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    Also, do the Cubs finally wise up and buy out Castro's arb years and 1 year or 2 of free agency this offseason? 3 WAR 21 year old ballplayers don't grow on trees, and Starlin is probably entering his reserve clause season in 2012. Lock in the savings now and build around him!

  • In reply to Eddie:

    Starlin is probably entering his *FINAL reserve clause season in 2012.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    That makes for a good subject for an article, Eddie. I think the Cubs should absolutely try and lock him up the way the Rays did Longoria or the Angels just did with Weaver.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    If I had to bet on it, I'd say yes. I expect him to improve in 3 categories net season: defense, OBP, and power. That should hopefully be enough to get him into the 4 WAR range.

  • The Cubs should lock up Castro soon as well. IMO, he is the future face of this franchise and a future MVP candidate. Barring some other player coming down the pike and blossoming, Castro will be the star for years to come.

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