Castro, Colvin grow into elite members of rookie class

Castro, Colvin grow into elite members of rookie class

Friday, Aug. 27, 2010
11:39 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

CINCINNATI Almost anything seemed possible that Friday night at Great American Ball Park. Starlin Castro lived up to all the hype, and Cubs fans could envision their shortstop for the next 10-to-15 years.

The 20-year-old crushed a home run in his first major-league at-bat and finished with a record-setting six RBI in his debut. The Cubs sold Castros promotion as a way to improve their overall team defense, and move Ryan Theriot to second base, where he profiled better offensively.

They entered Friday last in the National League in fielding percentage. And only one player in the majors Ian Desmond (28) had committed more errors than Castro (20), and the Washington Nationals shortstop has done that in 24 more games.

Theriot is now playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers, part of a series of moves that would have seemed unlikely if not unthinkable on May 7 in Cincinnati.

The front office thought a young player could energize the clubhouse, but didnt want to place too much on Castros shoulders, stressing that any offensive production would be a bonus.

Castro returned to the scene of his dazzling debut on Friday only five plate appearances away from qualifying for the leader board. His .315 average would otherwise rank fifth in the National League.

Since his call-up from Double-A Tennessee, he has played in 98 of the teams 99 games, and made the proper adjustments at the plate, heading into Friday hitting .371 since July 10.

We thought he (might) hit the wall, Geovany Soto said. He's the real deal. He makes the difficult play look easy. He's young, but he knows this game. He's going to make a few mistakes here and there, (but) at his age I was in A-ball.

The Cubs catcher was the 2008 N.L. Rookie of the Year, an award that will have no shortage of candidates by the end of this season. Castro will have to be in the conversation.

Atlanta Braves outfielder Jason Heyward generated much of the preseason buzz, and hes hitting .269 with 14 home runs and 57 RBI for a first-place team. Within that division, first basemen Gaby Sanchez (.2891569) and Ike Davis (.2481557) are producing for the Florida Marlins and New York Mets.

Left-hander Jamie Garcia (11-6, 2.42) is helping to keep the St. Louis Cardinals in the race. San Francisco Giants catcherfirst baseman Buster Posey (.3321049) will only play a little more than half a season, but hes doing it for a playoff contender and sometimes at the games most physically demanding position.

And then there is Tyler Colvin, who leads all rookies with 19 home runs, though his on-base percentage has dipped to .316. Thats not the type of production youre looking for in a first baseman. Manager Mike Quade isnt rushing to use Colvin at that position during a game, much less make him Derrek Lees replacement.

Hes just going to mess around there. Theres no imminent thing going on, Quade said. When Derrek left, that throws everything into a little different context for awhile.

I believe it would not affect (Colvins outfield play) at all. So why not increase his value and our ability to use him in different possibilities? But we needed to defuse the fact that this going to happen now (or) going to be every (day).

Fridays news that Stephen Strasburg is expected to undergo Tommy John surgery is a reminder how fragile young players especially pitchers can be.

After facing the Washington rookie in June, Paul Konerko, one of the most thoughtful players in baseball, was compelled to say: Hes played less than a year of pro baseball and hes as dominant, as good as anyone out there. Now Strasburg is looking at 12-to-18 months of rehabilitation, hoping he will again be able to rediscover his 100 mph stuff.

For Castro, the challenge wont be as dramatic. It will be in the details, like tagging runners, and making the routine plays, over and over again. It could take years.

You watch a veteran shortstop come in with another club who doesnt have that kind of talent, Quade said. (He) doesnt have that kind of upside anymore (like Castro, but hes) able to slow the thing down when things get sped up.

(If) its bases loaded one out (and) the people are screaming, you have to be able to (do that). It doesnt mean you nonchalant something, but in your mind youre slowing things down, which allows you to make more plays and be more consistent.

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

Preview: Jon Lester goes for win No. 20 as Cubs battle Reds on CSN

Preview: Jon Lester goes for win No. 20 as Cubs battle Reds on CSN

Jon Lester goes for win No. 20 in his final start of the regular season as the Cubs take on the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 2:30 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester (19-4, 2.28 ERA) vs. Tim Adleman (3-4, 3.90 ERA)

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No guarantees, but Ben Zobrist believes Cubs can live up to ‘super-team’ hype

No guarantees, but Ben Zobrist believes Cubs can live up to ‘super-team’ hype

CINCINNATI – Flooded with offers, Ben Zobrist turned down the New York Mets, San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals – three teams the Cubs could potentially face in the playoffs – because he believed in The Plan, closing a four-year, $56 million deal by the winter meetings for the chance to make history in Chicago.     

Zobrist has been exactly what the Cubs wanted, a patient switch-hitter to set an example for a young lineup, a versatile defender who can play all over the field and an insightful clubhouse presence. But that contract should really pay off in October, the way the Kansas City Royals added dimensions to last year’s World Series winner with a trade-deadline deal for Zobrist. 

“Talent really doesn’t mean a whole lot,” Zobrist said. “Every team that’s going to be there is talented. But that talent makes less of a difference when you’re playing against those caliber teams. It really comes down to execution. 

“The teams that execute – the teams that make the pitch, make the play, have the good at-bat when they need it – are the teams that win. Regular season is what it is. We’ve had a great season. We know that we’re probably the best team that’s out there regular season. But that doesn’t guarantee us anything for the postseason.” 

One week out from the roar at Wrigley Field and the playoffs Cubs fans have been waiting for since the Mets swept last year’s National League Championship Series, Camp Joe Maddon crossed another day off the bizarro spring-training calendar with Friday night’s 7-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park.    

There aren’t many conclusions to be drawn from a 102-win machine rolling over a last-place team, especially when the winning pitcher (Jake Buchanan) throws five scoreless innings in his first appearance in 25 days. But Maddon has seen enough of Zobrist to know when he’s looking “very frisky and ready to roll.”

Zobrist ended Josh Smith’s perfect game by leading off the fifth inning and drilling a ball into the right-field seats. Zobrist nailed another ball in the eighth inning, a two-run homer off Abel De Los Santos that landed in the same general area, the crowd chanting “Let’s go, Cubbies!” as Reds manager Bryan Price walked out toward the mound for a pitching change.

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“He thrives at this time of the year,” Maddon said. “It means a lot. Because when you get guys who have been there, done that – especially (someone) pretty solid regarding his daily approach – it will definitely rub off in a positive way on the other guys.”

It’s one thing to have a strong relationship with Maddon and believe the recruiting pitch from team president Theo Epstein. It’s another to see the vision come to life across 160 games, in an industry where the teams that win the offseason typically buckle under the pressure.

Zobrist – who played in six postseason series with Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays and put up an .880 OPS in 16 games during Kansas City’s World Series run – believes the Cubs have what it takes to become that special team.   

“For sure,” Zobrist said. “Just based on the mix of personalities and character and players that we have in this room individually. 

“You know that when you put them together, it’s a ‘super-team’ of sorts. We really have to prove our record right, prove people right that we can do it when it counts. And that’s going to be the most important thing going into the postseason.”

Zobrist has lived up to his end of the bargain, with this 3-for-4 night boosting his numbers to 17 homers and 75 RBI and pushing his OPS to .830. He has more walks (95) than strikeouts (80), getting on base almost 39 percent of the time in the middle of what could be an all-or-nothing lineup last year.

“It doesn’t matter who you are,” Zobrist said. “Everybody’s going to be hyped up and excited and a little bit anxious to play that first game in the postseason. 

“Just simplify it. It’s an individual thing to not allow the other stuff to get in your way of doing your job and just trying to focus. And even when you focus, sometimes the other team just executes a little bit better. There’s just a level of consistency and calmness that as a player you have to find to be able to perform at that level. 

“We have a lot of guys that have already done it. We got a lot of guys that already have that in their makeup. They need to feel that and experience that come postseason.”