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

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

The new Cubs are out to write their own history

The new Cubs are out to write their own history

The Cubs felt so nervous just before a 7:09 first pitch on Saturday night that Javier Baez found the camera looking into the home dugout, waved with a big smile and started pumping his fist, hamming it up for the video board as Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” blasted through the Wrigley Field sound system.

The Cubs then ran out onto the field and systematically destroyed the Los Angeles Dodgers, ending this National League Championship Series in six games with a 5-0 win that featured almost no tension or suspense, obliterating for now the narrative around this franchise.

The old stadium still kept shaking, from Kris Bryant’s RBI single in the first inning to the clapping to Anthony Rizzo’s “Intoxicated” walk-up music to a standing ovation for Kyle Hendricks, who outpitched the supposed best pitcher on the planet in Clayton Kershaw.

“We don’t care about history,” Bryant said. “This is a completely different team, different people all around. It doesn’t matter. This is a new Chicago Cubs team. And we are certainly a very confident group.”

Sure, 1908 will hover over the entire World Series, which begins Tuesday night against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. But this is the new normal for Bryant, who within two years has won 200 games, four playoff rounds, a Rookie of the Year award and probably MVP hardware.

This team isn’t going away, either. With a chance to win the pennant for the first time since the Truman administration, the Cubs started two rookies who began this season at Triple-A Iowa – catcher Willson Contreras and outfielder Albert Almora Jr. – in a lineup that featured Bryant (24), Rizzo (27), Baez (23), Addison Russell (22) and Hendricks (26).

Contreras caught a shutout and posed for a moment at home plate watching his line-drive homer off Kershaw fly into the left-field bleachers in the fourth inning. Rizzo – who had looked overmatched earlier in the playoffs – became the first left-handed hitter to homer off Kershaw during this calendar year.

And when Rizzo tried to wave off Baez for the ball Josh Reddick popped up to the right side of the infield in the fifth inning, Baez cut right in front of Rizzo to catch it, continuing a long-running gag among the Cubs infielders.

“I don’t think they’re oblivious, because that’s sort of insulting in some ways,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “They know the history. I just don’t think they care. They think they’re a good team and they love to play. And we have some guys that definitely shine on the big stage.”

Baez – a September call-up last year who couldn’t get an everyday spot during the regular season – showed off his bat speed and unbelievable defensive instincts and emerged as the NLCS co-MVP along with big-game pitcher Jon Lester. Sold on the idea of all this young talent someday coming together, Lester joined a last-place team after the 2014 season, taking a leap of faith, even at $155 million.

“I don’t feel like there’s pressure at all in our clubhouse,” said Almora, the first player Theo Epstein’s front office drafted here in 2012. “There’s just hunger and excitement and desire to win.

“None of us were around in 1945…so we just got to write our own history.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

This is what the Cubs have been talking about since the New York Mets swept them out of last year’s NLCS, since the Ricketts family invested almost $290 million more in free agents, since unconventional manager Joe Maddon made “Embrace The Target” the theme of spring training.

Whatever your preconceived notions of the old Cubs are, know that this group has an amazing sense of balance. They are youthful and experienced. They play as a team and with individual flair. They have style and get dirty. They are analytical and sort of oblivious. They are loose and intense. And the ending hasn’t been written yet.

“We still got a long ways to go,” Lester said. “We’ll enjoy tonight – don’t get me wrong – we’ll have a celebration. We’ll have a good time. We’ll smile, we’ll hug each other, probably get drunk a little bit…but we got some work to do.”

Kyle Hendricks outduels Clayton Kershaw and delivers legendary performance that puts Cubs in World Series

Kyle Hendricks outduels Clayton Kershaw and delivers legendary performance that puts Cubs in World Series

John Hendricks sent a text message to his son at 11:24 a.m. on Saturday: “Good luck tonight!! Remember, great mechanics and preparation will prevail. Just let it go!!” It ended with three emoji: a smiley face with sunglasses, the thumbs-up sign and a flexed biceps.

The Cubs have bonded fathers and sons for generations, and Hendricks immediately understood what it meant for his boy when the Cubs traded Ryan Dempster to the Texas Rangers minutes before the deadline on July 31, 2012, telling Kyle: “You win in this city, you will be a legend. There is no doubt about it. This is the greatest sports town in the United States.”

This is the intoxicating lure of the Cubs. It didn’t matter that Kyle had been an eighth-round pick out of Dartmouth College, and hadn’t yet finished his first full season in professional baseball, and would be joining an organization enduring a 101-loss season, the third of five straight fifth-place finishes.

Kyle’s low-key personality will never get him confused with an ’85 Bear, but he delivered a legendary performance in Game 6, outpitching Clayton Kershaw at the end of this National League Championship Series and leading the Cubs to the World Series for the first time in 71 years.

Five outs away from the pennant, a raucous crowd of 42,386 at Wrigley Field actually booed star manager Joe Maddon when he walked out to the mound to take the ball from Kyle and bring in closer Aroldis Chapman. Kyle, the silent assassin, did briefly raise his hand to acknowledge the standing ovation before descending the dugout steps. 

After a 5-0 win, Kyle stood in roughly the same spot with Nike goggles on his head and finally looked a little rattled, his body shivering and teeth chattering in the cold, his Cubs gear soaked from the champagne-and-beer celebration.

“It’s always been an uphill climb for me, honestly,” Kyle said. “But that really has nothing to do with getting guys out. My focus from Day 1 – even when I was young, high school, college, all the way up until now – all it’s been is trying to make good pitches. 

“And as we moved up, you just saw that good pitches get good hitters out.” 

At a time when the game is obsessed with velocity and showing off for the radar gun, Kyle knows how to pitch, putting the ball where he wants when he wants, avoiding the hot zones that lead to trouble, mixing his changeups, fastballs and curveball in an unpredictable way that takes advantage of the team’s intricate scouting system and keeps hitters completely off-balance.

“Kyle didn’t even give them any air or any hope,” general manager Jed Hoyer said.

Amid the celebration, scouting/player-development chief Jason McLeod spotted Kyle’s dad and yelled at John: “You f------ called it!” John – who once worked in the Angels ticket office and as a golf pro in Southern California – had moved to Chicago two years ago to work for his good friend’s limo company and watch his son pitch at Wrigley Field. John had told McLeod that Kyle would one day help the Cubs win a championship.

“That was one of the best pitching performances I’ve ever seen,” McLeod said. “Ever.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities] 

The media framed Kyle as The Other Pitcher, even though he won the ERA title this season, with all the pregame buzz surrounding Kershaw, the three-time Cy Young Award winner and 2014 NL MVP. Except Kershaw gave up five runs and got knocked out after five innings, while Kyle only gave up two singles to the 23 batters he faced, finishing with six strikeouts against zero walks and looking like he had even more left in the tank at 88 pitches.

“It was incredible,” Ben Zobrist said. “That was the easiest postseason game we’ve had yet and it was the clincher to go to the World Series. 

“He’s just so good, so mature for his age. He just has a knack to put the ball where he needs to. He’s smart and he’s clutch. He deserves to win the Cy Young this year.”

Where Kershaw’s presence loomed over the entire playoffs, Kyle has always been underestimated, coming into this season as a fourth or fifth starter with something to prove, and even he didn’t see all this coming. But big-game pitchers can come in all shapes and sizes and don’t have to throw 97 mph. 

“He wants the ball,” John said. “Every big game – I don’t care if it was Little League or wherever – he wants the ball. Plain and simple, (he’ll) get the job done.”