Cubs: Starlin Castro, and the future of the franchise

Cubs: Starlin Castro, and the future of the franchise
May 26, 2012, 1:21 am
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PITTSBURGH There will come a time where the narrative will shift from what Starlin Castro could become to what he hasnt done yet.

Fair or not, thats just the game of expectations. At the age of 22, Castro has already put up two .300 seasons, played in the All-Star Game and led the National League in hits.

The Cubs marketing department had already put Castro up on billboards by the time Theo Epsteins front office inherited what may be a franchise shortstop to build their team around.

But people will want more, and expect to see a power surge and better defensive focus, even though Castro is already pretty, pretty good.

Ready or not, Cubs manager Dale Sveum said back in spring training that it was time to commit to Castro as the No. 3 hitter, for the future of the franchise.

By Friday, the Cubs were on a nine-game losing streak and had scored in four of their last 47 innings. Sveum responded by moving Castro to the No. 2 spot and signaling that Joe Mather will get an extended look hitting third and playing center field.

Its time, Sveum said. (Its) the combination of not really scoring throughout the whole season and Mathers been as good as anybody swinging the bat. Its going to give him a little opportunity to see what he can do.

I told Castro: Its not a demotion. Its just more shaking the team up. He was great about it (and said): Hey, I just want to win. I dont care where I hit in the lineup.

Thats an essential part of Castros personality: Nothing seems to faze him.

Just how high is Castros ceiling? That will be a central question as Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer try to lay the foundation for sustained success.

Castro entered Friday hitting .313 with two homers and 25 RBI, which was tied for third in the majors among middle infielders. Clearly, he can provide offense at a premium position.

But if the Cubs are going to mirror those Boston Red Sox teams that would grind out at-bats and play four-hour games, then Castro will have to improve his .323 on-base percentage. He has walked once in the past six weeks.

Does Castro profile as a No. 3 hitter for the future?

He hasnt done anything (wrong), Sveum said. Hes hitting .350 with men in scoring position. Hes hitting over .300. Thats pretty good out of the third spot. You might want more home runs.

But you take some of those balls he hit with the wind howling in, you could still have five or six home runs. Theres nothing hes done to be put down to the two spot. Its just more something to change to get everything going.

Sveum kept talking, using a Lou Piniella line from a few years ago: You never know, sometimes you pick a lineup out of a hat and you win. I wasnt going to go that far but

Castro has already played for three different managers. Hes done it in a big market playing for a marquee team (in fifth place). It would be interesting to see how he responds to the pressure of a pennant race, how he performs with a better supporting cast.

But before we get to that point, Year 3 in the big leagues could say a lot about the rest of Castros career.