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.

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Joe Maddon's T-shirt slogans can get a little old at times, but the Cubs manager found a new audience in Brett Anderson, who liked the idea of "Be Uncomfortable" after signing a one-year, prove-it deal with the defending champs.

"It's been awesome so far," Anderson said. "That's my running joke – we're a month into it now or whatever it is – and I don't hate anybody yet.

"That's a testament to the group as a whole – and maybe me evolving as a person."

Yes, Anderson's sarcasm, social-media presence and groundball style fits in with a team built around short-term pitching and Gold Glove defense. The if-healthy lefty finished his Cactus League tour on Saturday afternoon by throwing four innings (one unearned run) during a 7-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies in front of 13,565 at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Anderson will open the season as the No. 4 starter after a camp that has been remarkably low-key and drama-free.

"I'm kind of cynical by nature, but it's a fun group to be a part of," Anderson said, "(with) young guys that are exciting and happy to be here. And then obviously the mix of veterans, too, that are here with intentions of winning another World Series."

To make that happen, the pitching staff will have to again stay unbelievably healthy. Anderson rolled with a general question about how he physically feels now compared to where he's usually at by this time of year.

"Obviously better than last year, because I was walking with a gimp and all that stuff," said Anderson, who underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a bulging disk in his lower back last March. "No, my body feels good, my arm feels good and you're getting into the dog days of spring training where you're itching to get to the real thing."

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. – Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

That's assuming good health – manager Joe Maddon sounded unconcerned about Ben Zobrist (stiff neck), Addison Russell (stiff back) and Albert Almora Jr. (stiff neck) – and the Cubs carrying an eight-man bullpen.

Maddon appeared to eliminate one variable, confirming that La Stella has signaled a willingness to go to Triple-A Iowa if necessary, which would normally be an obvious statement, except for last summer's "Where's Tommy?" episode.

"I haven't even thought about it," Maddon said during Saturday's media session at the Sloan Park complex. "It's not an issue. I thought we handled it pretty openly last year and there's been no blowback whatsoever from the players."

Beyond this – La Stella initially refused to report to the minors last July, moved back home to New Jersey and talked briefly about retirement – an American League scout and a National League scout tracking the Cubs in Arizona both agreed that Szczur looks like the superior player.

Plus Szczur – and not La Stella – is out of minor-league options now.

"When you get this kind of a talent, depth-wise, it's a wonderful problem to have," Maddon said. "And then, of course, the rules start creeping in. The rules in this situation would benefit Matt, which is a good thing, because he's a big-league guy that's been riding the shuttle. He's done it in a very stoic manner, and he's been great for us."

La Stella has allies in the clubhouse – Jake Arrieta got a Coastal Carolina tattoo on his right butt cheek after losing a College World Series bet – and goes about his routine in a quiet, diligent manner.

La Stella is not a distraction at all and can hit left-handed and play the infield – two attributes that Szczur can't bring to Maddon's bench.

"Matt Szczur, to me, is a Major League Baseball player," Maddon said. "You're seeing what Tommy can do from the left side of the plate right now. And then it's just a matter of balancing things out. We've already mentioned that some guys on the infield can play the outfield within this group, thus it presents differently regarding what you need."

[MORE CUBS: Javier Baez won’t change his style around Cubs after World Baseball Classic: ‘We’re not showing anybody up’]

Szczur is hitting .361 with a .994 OPS through 14 Cactus League games and can play all over the outfield. But that skill is diminished when the Cubs already have four established outfielders plus Zobrist and Kris Bryant able to shift from the infield.

Then again, defensive wizard Javier Baez should have the Cubs covered all across the infield in case of an emergency. With the defending World Series champs a week out from facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, we're about to find out if Maddon made his recommendation or had a possible trade scenario or disabled-list situation in mind.

"I love Matt Szczur," Maddon said. "This guy as a teammate – you're not going to get a better one. Nobody's going to get a better one on any team for any reason.

"We haven't decided everything or anything yet. Stuff happens in a very short period of time. He is a major-league baseball player. So we'll just wait a couple more days, see how it plays out. But he's a benefit to any group that has him."