Cubs News and Notes: All Castro, All the Time

According to Patrick Mooney, the plan is to install Starlin Castro in the leadoff spot in the hope that he can “get his swagger back.”  It seems pretty clear that one of the goals this spring is a new start for Castro.  Indeed, the firing of Dale Sveum last winter could be read as a consequence of a poor relationship with the shortstop.  The description of a meeting with Starlin being happy and talkative is good to hear after watching the morose and depressed version struggle through last year.  This is still extremely early but we can at least say that things are starting as well as could be hoped.

Didn’t the Cubs have Another Core Piece Struggle Last Year

We’re going to take a brief break from the stories about Starlin Castro — I’m just the messenger here, folks! — to bring an update about another young Cub.  Anthony Rizzo sat down with ESPN’s Jesse Rogers and emphasized that he’s looking to be more consistent this year.  It’s a good piece, though Rogers talks about Rizzo’s struggles with runners in scoring position.  It appears to be a Rogers question and not something Rizzo brought up but, personally, I’m hoping he’s looking to have better at-bats against left handers instead of RISP situations.

Update on the January Car Crash

In a very sad story, Cubs prospect Kevin Encarnacion — who had a strong year in Boise last summer — is still recovering from a car crash in the Dominican Republic this January.  At the time, it was reported that none of the injuries were serious.  However, Encarnacion is in a Phoenix area hospital with burns to his throwing arm and torso.  The Cubs actually flew him out of a hospital in his native Dominican Republic to the Arizona Burn Center to help his healing.  The link includes an interview with Encarnacion.

Top international signees Frandy De La Rosa and Jefferson Mejia were also in the crash, as well as pitcher  Jose Zapata.  No word in this report on how those three are doing.

Needless to say, everyone here at Cubs Den wishes Encarnacion a speedy recovery.

More on the Cubs Prospects from Baseball America

Baseball America’s prospect gurus had a chat on the Top 100 Prospects.  These responses, in particular, may be of interest to Cubs fans:

CW (Houston): Why did you place Baez in front of Correa?
Ben Badler: They’re back-to-back on my list. The edge for Baez is in the power and the more advanced track record. They should both be stars.

Kevin (Chicago): Who do you think has the best chance to make a big jump for the Cubs this year, similar to what Arismendy Alcantara did last year?
Ben Badler: Jeimer Candelario has the potential to make that kind of leap this year. Mature hitting approach for his age (and no age questions here), good bat speed, 20-25 homer potential.

Christopher (Chicago): What are your thoughts on Edwards for the Cubs? What is his ceiling?
Ben Badler: An athletic power arm with a plus breaking ball, throws strikes, misses bats, gets ground balls. Everything’s there for him to be a No. 2 starter if it all comes together.

Jackson (New York): Who has fallen the farthest in the rankings (obviously not including being promoted to The Show) ???
Ben Badler: Mike Olt and Bubba Starling probably had the biggest drop-offs from last year. Could throw Courtney Hawkins into that mix too.

Mark (Ohio): In the last 25 years there have been a lot of Cubs misses on the BA top 100. Is this class different?
Matt Eddy: I would look much more favorably on this group of Cubs prospects based on the precedent that Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod established with the Red Sox system, turning them into a player-development machine. With Chicago, that group has had access to much higher draft picks than they did in Boston. Expect good things.

Cal Guy (Cal): In five years, who is a major league shortstop from the group of Baez, Bogaerts, Correa, and Russell?
Matt Eddy: Research conducted by J.J. Cooper suggests that nearly three-quarters of elite minor league shortstops who face questions about their ultimate position eventually shift to another spot. A pessimist would conclude, then, that Russell would be the last shortstop standing. I’ll double that and say Correa also sticks at the position.

Max Fried Shut Down

This really belongs in the Saturday column but, as you may have noticed, that’s taken a bit of a back seat with me picking up some of the slack with John out.  This is an excellent reason why using high picks on pitchers is so risky.  Padres top prospect Max Fried has been shut down for two weeks with soreness in his elbow.  Fried was taken #7 by the Padres in 2012, one pick after Albert Almora.  Obviously, an elbow issue is not something to take lightly.  If this is serious, it’s a major hit to the Padres system.  That would make the decision to go with Almora over the talented left-hander look even better.  It does make you wonder if the Cubs front office will go for Trea Turner if he’s available at #4.


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  • Mike, what are your thoughts on Castro at lead off? Doesn't putting him in that spot force him to try to do what they tried to do with him last year, i.e., take more pitches, work the count, try to get more walks? Isn't that what backfired? I'd like to see him hacking away in the 5 hole, protecting Riz.

    As for Max Fried, isn't that risk inherently present for every pitcher? Whether it's a first rounder, or a high priced FA? Just doesn't seem like a reason to shy away from a potential TOR arm in the next draft.

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    In reply to TTP:

    They don't seem to be requiring it of Castro -- I think it's more about making him comfortable and let him be himself. If he goes back to hit .300/.345/.431 (his career numbers there), they can decide where to go from there.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Castro can pull an ~300/.345/.430 ish line as leadoff hitter,.... I think we would all take that to the bank.

    What I remain more concerned about as goes Castro - I want to see continnued improvement defensively as SS. Cut his errors down to the low teens for the year and Baez is going to have a hard time displacing him.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    They want to put him in as many fastball counts as possible. It also gives him more AB's than anyone else so he sees even more pitches, and that should only help. The more you do something the better you get at it right? That whole play the typical leadoff hitter role is secondary to Castro's ultimate success, and further development. IF the Cubs had some hot shot leadoff guy they were hindering than maybe this would be something to debate, but they don't. Not yet, although I think Alcantara has a real shot at being a pretty good one. That is of course he sticks at second base. That may be Baez's spot IF the Cubs third base situation works out with one of the many posssible prospects they have at the hot corner. Alcantara could move to the outfield IF one of the top 3 guys don't work out. It's pretty clear the Cubs have a ton of VERY good problems at every position said for Catcher depth, and Top of the rotation starters.

  • It's good to see Castro report in good shape with an upbeat attitude. After a sexual assault charge, frozen bank account, fronted off by the national media, benching and rough year, It would easy for him to be disillusioned. This will show his strength or character or lack there of.

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    In reply to 44slug:

    It seems pretty clear that Renteria is playing good cop to Sveum's bad cop and, to this point, it's working well.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Renteria came in saying the players would know that he has their backs in public. Hard to see how any manager could have had Castro's back any more than Renteria with his comments to the media earlier this week. That may have contributed to his apparent upbeat attitude this Spring.

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    In reply to 44slug:

    Don't forget to include having a baby. I have felt all along his problems was mental which included on and off the field pressures.

  • No. Please no on Castro leading off, esp. if that is meant to get him out of his funk from last year. YES please YES (as TPP suggested above) we NEED that kind of batting strategy from our lead-off batter. If they are not requiring that from Castro as Mike also illuded(sp) to above (someone please shoot me) it wouldn't seem that we need him leading off then. I have MUCH more grander plans for Emilio Bonifacio in that lead-off spot. SPOIL ME!

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    In reply to rickmonday:

    Castro's best career numbers have come in the leadoff spot. To his advantage, he will likely see more fastballs at the top of the order

  • I can't imagine anything much less important than who leads off for the Cubs this season.

    If it helps Castro feel more comfortable and causes him to return to his career numbers at that position up til now, it will have helped the team much more than Bonifacio, even if Bonifacio actually did a good job there.

    If Bonifacio does well enough to beat out Barney, he will help just as much at #2 batter as at lead off.

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    As much as I want a high end pitcher in the system, the FO has shown a tendency to favor bats with the high picks.

    If we end up top-5 again, I do wonder about Treat Turner.

    And I've been wondering as well about Jacob Gatewood. He looks to have pretty impressive power potential and power is something they've obviously shown a strong tendency toward as well.

  • I think they will put stress the hit tool more this year than in the past couple. They have a pretty good stable of power hitters in Baez, Soler, Bryant, and Vogelbach to go with Rizzo and perhaps even Olt. If they think that Turner can do it at the MLB level, I think he will be the one rather than a pitcher.

    Then a whole bunch of power pitchers.

  • Here's an interesting nugget about Castro:

    Only 4 members of 3000-hit club had more hits through age 23 season than Starlin Castro.

  • Seems to me the draft strategy is go with the thing that is most likely to succeed - a college bat - and then when your system is flooded with them you trade one of those for a TOR pitcher who has avoided all the pit falls and is ready for the show.

    The hard part is that we fall in love with our prospects and the thought of trading one - Bryant - for a pitcher is difficult.

  • In reply to Morgzie:

    Bryant won't be traded. There are others that might, but Bryant and Baez, and I think Almora will not be considered. But some talent will be traded for a top TOR pitcher, especially if the FO drafts Tuner. Turner is a special talent, 80 on the speed scale, great bat, prototypical lead-off hitter. Think of Billy Hamilton type speed, sticking at SS, and having more power. Then, someone gets shoved around, and someone gets traded. But Baez and Bryant? They are both much higher regarded than Rizzo, of course to be seen! In truth, in a year, there will be at least two big young talents who might be traded.

  • In reply to Quasimodo:

    Some will undoubted be traded. Castro seems the most logical. He is worth the most right now and we have plenty of options to replace him. I also think Olt is a high probability trade candidate if he is successful this year. But it all depends on who develops and when. We will just have to watch to see what happens. As for the draft, I think this FO would love to get Turner.

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    I do think some of our prospects will be traded from a depth stand point as guys move through the system. With Olt, Villaneuva, Bryant, Candelario and maybe Baez all looked as a possibility for 3rd base it just makes sense to trade from that depth.

    I could also see Alencarta moved as well if the Cubs think that Baez or Turner(#want) is the answer at 2nd. His value will never be higher with a strong first half and there is enough swing and miss to his game to question whether he will hit enough to make it to his huge ceiling.

  • In reply to Richard Hood:

    I agree some will be traded. But I don't think Alcantara will be one. The Cubs are short on speed and left handed hitting. I imagine he will be kept since he is a switch hitter with speed.

  • Nice work, Mike. I know it's just a news and notes article, but there are good ones and bad ones, and this was very well done. You're a good writer. Thanks for including all the links, too.

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    RE: Rizzo v. lefties, I found this article a week or so ago.

    interesting stuff, and reason for optimism?

  • Mike, had a question on who was in the car crash. John's article listed Anderson Mejia in the crash while you list Jefferson Mejia. Who was it?

  • In reply to John57:

    Same guy.

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    I think I remember reports that said Fried and Almora were the Cubs final 2? Still too early to tell but I'm glad he Cubs chose Almora.

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