Believe the hype: Castros as good as advertised

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Believe the hype: Castros as good as advertised

Sunday, April 17, 2011Posted: 4:10 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

DENVER Starlin Castro didnt understand anything. Hed sit down at a restaurant in Daytona, Fla. If the menu didnt have any pictures, then, well, he wasnt going to eat.

The game came naturally. Castros father wanted a baseball player and called his son Starlin because it was a real ballplayers name in the Dominican Republic.

When Castro returned home to Monte Cristy this winter, he could feel that he was being looked at differently, like a big-league man.

Its the same in the Cubs clubhouse, where Castros no longer a rookie but the teams most dynamic player. He gets it walking the downtown streets in Chicago, and its all so new that he still enjoys being recognized.

Those close to Castro could see this coming. Vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita, who oversees Latin America for the Cubs, stressed the importance of learning the language and told him that he didnt need an interpreter at his side.

Castro rubbed his fingers together while recalling what his agent, Paul Kinzer, told him: If you dont speak English, you dont make money.

By now, its clear that everyone will want a piece of Castro. At 21 years and 24 days old, the shortstop is the youngest player in the majors, but he carries himself at a level far beyond that. He woke up Sunday morning batting .397 and leading the majors in hits (25).

I dont think anything surprises me anymore, catcher Koyie Hill said. After his first at-bat in Cincinnati, it should have all been downhill from there. But hes proved us wrong every day.

Now its time to believe the hype. Castro homered in his first at-bat and set a major-league record with six RBI in his debut last year. But hes proven that he values his craft and can do it once the adrenaline wears off.

Castros batting .336 since the All-Star break last season no one else in the National League has more hits during that time. More than that, its his approach, the way he knows the strike zone and works 13-pitch at-bats.

Cubs pitcher Casey Coleman, who once played with Castro at Double-A Tennessee, pointed to the three-run bomb he hit Saturday night off Rockies reliever Felipe Paulino into the left-field seats.

His ability is amazing, but his baseball smarts are even better, Coleman said. He knows what pitchers are trying to do with him and his hands are so quick. The home-run (pitch) was down and in off the plate, 95 mph. You dont see that, especially from a young guy.

Castro does not get fooled at the plate. The analytics on the website FanGraphs show that hes made contact almost 92 percent of the time when he swings. He has an advanced understanding of what he wants to do, but is still only scratching the surface.

Im so happy with him, manager Mike Quade said. It would be really fun to see him gain a little bit more discipline and maybe lay off some of those pitches that are off the plate and really put him in good situations pitch-count wise. (But) right now, hes doing things just fine. I got nothing to say except: Keep going, kid.

The other night, Alfonso Soriano walked into the clubhouse and smiled when he saw Castro surrounded by reporters doing a postgame interview. Soriano takes great pride in Castros development and yelled out: Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!

Soriano had told Castro that you have to talk to the media when you play like this.

He goes 0-for-4 and the next day hes got four hits. Its incredible, Soriano said. He does not get down.

Castro stayed with Soriano last year but has his own place now. His family lived with him during spring training and will come to Chicago in May for the rest of the season.

Castros face doesnt hide what hes thinking. He smiles easily and his eyes widen when he gets excited, then narrow when hes trying to make a point. He lounges at his locker while talking on the phone. His body language says: I was born to do this.

Its easy to envision Castro on more billboards and in more commercials. But all that is secondary for someone who takes this very seriously. He attacked the language studies because hes looking to improve. He learned more English watching ESPN and the MLB Network. This is a singular focus.

Baseball is my work, Castro said.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Breaking down how Cubs look at the Justin Verlander situation

Breaking down how Cubs look at the Justin Verlander situation

Theo Epstein’s embrace-debate management style means the Cubs are constantly running through different scenarios, trying to balance their win-now urges against what should be a very bright future in Wrigleyville.

The financials, the human intelligence and the analytics are all factored into the equation, which leads to this question for Epstein’s cabinet: Is there a point where the Detroit Tigers kick in enough money and the prospect cost becomes so low that Justin Verlander makes sense for the Cubs?

The Cubs haven’t definitively answered that question yet or completely ruled out the idea, a team source said Tuesday, cautioning that the defending World Series champs are still more likely to add a reliever before the July 31 trade deadline than acquire a frontline starting pitcher.

“Always looking to make the team better,” manager Joe Maddon said before a 7-2 win over the White Sox kept the Cubs in a virtual first-place tie with the Milwaukee Brewers. “Always. That’s what a GM and a president does. But I like our guys.”  

Verlander would obviously benefit from a move to the National League and feel energized in a pennant race. The Cubs could rationalize this as an immediate boost and a long-range solution while preparing for a 2018 rotation without Jake Arrieta and John Lackey.

Imagine the buzz from Kate Upton’s fiancée walking into the clubhouse and making his first start at Wrigley Field in a Cubs uniform. Verlander and Upton have been spotted enough times at Chicago Cut Steakhouse that his no-trade power might be the easiest hurdle to clear in a deal of this magnitude.

Verlander’s overall numbers are ordinary this season (5-7, 4.50 ERA, 1.444 WHIP), but trending in the right direction. The Cubs would go into it knowing that they wouldn’t get the same guy who won 24 games and American League MVP and Cy Young awards in 2011.

The Tigers also can’t just give away a franchise icon who finished second in last year’s AL Cy Young voting and has a 3.39 ERA in 16 career playoff starts

The Cubs are trying to see around corners and anticipate what the team will look like in 2018 and 2019 – when Verlander will make $28 million guaranteed each season – and what might be available in trades and on the free-agent market during those transaction cycles. Verlander is also owed the balance of his $28 million salary this season and has a $22 million vesting option for 2020.

Even if the Tigers pay down some of that commitment, that’s still a ton of exposure with a guy who has roughly 2,500 innings on his odometer and will be 35 years old around the time pitchers and catchers report to spring training next season. That’s also when the Cubs will begin the second half of Jon Lester’s $155 million megadeal – for his age-34, -35 and -36 seasons.

After stunning the baseball world with that blockbuster White Sox trade during the All-Star break, Epstein talked about how Jose Quintana’s reasonable contract – $8.85 million next season plus team options for 2019 and 2020 worth $22 million combined – creates room for another star player.

As great as Verlander has been throughout his career, are the Cubs really ready to pour that money back into a player who was born in 1983? And meet Detroit’s asking price in terms of prospects?

And go against the buy-low philosophy that attracted the Cubs to Arrieta, as well as the ageism that makes them reluctant to reinvest in their own Cy Young Award winner? And potentially close off opportunities to sign free agents from the monster class coming after the 2018 season?

Probably not, but the Cubs haven’t shut down the Verlander discussion yet.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Cubs even up Crosstown Series with White Sox

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Cubs even up Crosstown Series with White Sox

Danny Parkins (670 The Score), Jordan Bernfield (ESPN) and Mark Potash (Chicago Sun-Times) join Kap to talk Game 2 of the Crosstown Series.

Later, the group previews Bears camp and what's going on with the Cavaliers.

Check out the SportsTalk Live Podcast below: