The Cubs season isn’t going well. At all. When the only team trailing you in the division is the Houston Astros your outlook is bleak. When that same team comes into your city and sweeps you, bleak becomes BLEAK. The only real glimmer of hope in a season marred by poor play and injury is a young shortstop with defensive range, a strong arm, speed and an above average bat. Starlin Castro is the light at the end of a seemingly never-ending tunnel that is the 2011 Cubs season.
Starlin Castro is no longer a well-kept Chicago secret. His May 2011 Sports Illustrated cover solidifies that. Since 2000 the only other Cub players to be featured on an S.I. cover are Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome, Alfonso Soriano, Kerry Wood, Sammy Sosa and Mark Prior. Each of those players were either established superstars, major free agent signings or blossoming youngsters. Castro falls into the latter group and he now bears the pressure of accomplishing what the failed prospects who came before him could not. Mark Prior established himself as a rising star for one short year before his upper body succumbed to injuries. Prospects like Corey Patterson, Felix Pie, Hee-Seop Choi and Jeff Samardzija were well-hyped but couldn’t produce even that much consistency. At 21 years of age, Starlin Castro is the youngest active major league player this season. He had a good 2010 season after being called up from the minors (.300 average, 41 RBI) and his early success this year could lead to an All Star appearance later this summer.
Manager Mike Quade hasn’t eased Starlin into the spotlight this season. Quade has plugged him into the lead off spot, batted him second and placed him in the middle of the order. Castro responded by leading the team in Games Played, At Bats, Runs Scored, Hits, Triples and Stolen Bases (tied). With his range and powerful arm, his defensive potential is off-the-charts. But his error total is amongst the highest of all shortstops (3 of his 10 came in one inning). His decision-making and concentration in the field must improve for him to be considered an elite shortstop. Expect his home run power to increase in the coming years too. Starlin will surely grow into his 6 foot frame and he has already shown the ability to drive the ball ranking 1st in triples and 2nd in doubles on the team. His stolen base totals should also improve as he learns to harness his speed on the base paths. There is little doubt that Castro has the athletic ability and baseball toolkit to become a star. Watching Starlin with the Cubs this year will be like watching Derrick Rose’s first 2 years with the Bulls. A flourishing young player surrounded by a mediocre team. Try to enjoy Starlin’s individual performances even though the overall product on the field will remain sub par for the near future.