The catch to Castro's Rookie of the Year push

The catch to Castro's Rookie of the Year push

Saturday, Sept. 18, 2010
8:11 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MIAMI This isnt the Heisman Trophy race, where one highlight-reel moment can change voters minds and win a player the award. But Starlin Castros run from shortstop, full-extension leap across the left-field grass and basket catch diving into foul territory felt like something the Cubs would want to put on a billboard.

Castro is still more than six months away from being able to legally enjoy the Presidente beer his teammates were sipping late Friday night inside the clubhouse at Sun Life Stadium.

The mood might have been different if he hadnt tracked down that ball to end the game. Instead of lining up for high fives after a 2-0 victory, Carlos Marmol would have had to deal with the two Florida Marlins he walked in what would have been a one-run game.

That saved the game not me, Marmol said with a laugh. Hes good. Hes going to be (better) as soon as he finds (more) confidence at shortstop.

At 20, Marmol was pitching in rookie-league ball, trying to figure things out as a converted catcher, with no realistic expectation that he would become a dominant closer. Thats what the Cubs are trying to remind everyone. This will be a process.

Castros defensive instincts were apparent in the ninth inning, but so were his flaws in the seventh and eighth, when he booted a ball into the outfield and bobbled another on a double-play turn.

Sometimes you get scared, you dont want the ball hit to you, Castro said through interpreterthird-base coach Ivan DeJesus. The only way I can figure it out is to concentrate on the next hitter and try to make a play after that.

Castro didnt get in front of a ball hit to his left on Saturday night and committed his 27th error. There will be spectacular catches as well as the lapses in concentration that recently led manager Mike Quade to bench him for two games.

We talk so much about making the plays from six-to-eight feet, left-to-right, making the grinding, routine plays every day, Quade said. If he combines that (with his athleticism), then hes going to be a phenomenal player.

Quade managed Miguel Tejada, a future American League MVP, on his way up through the Oakland system. The As shortstop had 26 errors in 104 games during his first extended stay in the majors, which came at the age of 24.

Derek Jeter, then 22, finished with 22 errors in 157 games during his Rookie of the Year season in 1996. Ten years later, Hanley Ramirez, who was 22 at the time, committed 26 errors in 154 games and won the award.

On Saturday night Castro played in his 112th game since being promoted from Double-A Tennessee on May 7. He entered Saturday hitting .309 three plate appearances shy of qualifying for the National League leader board and .344 since the All-Star break.

When the ballots are due, voters will have to weigh that against Castros defensive issues, which will be hard to ignore, as well as a strong crop of rookies.

Atlantas Jason Heyward (.2881871) and San Franciscos Buster Posey (.3221461) are performing in pennant races. Floridas Gaby Sanchez (.2791878) is another reliable run-producer. St. Louis has been thinking about shutting down left-hander Jaime Garcia (13-8, 2.70), but his numbers deserve consideration.

Castro, who for perspective began last season at Class-A Daytona, says he isnt thinking about the Rookie of the Year award. No matter the results, hell be forced to grow up quick. This patience wont last forever.

Hes 20 years old, but he acts like a man, Alfonso Soriano said. He knows what he wants to do.

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

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How Ian Happ helped the 2017 Cubs find their identity

How Ian Happ helped the 2017 Cubs find their identity

How Ian Happ helped the 2017 Cubs find their identity

In the span of just over a week, Ian Happ has gone from arguably the Cubs' biggest trade piece to the 2017 savior.

OK, "savior" is extreme, but Happ has been an unlikely stabilizing force for the defending world champions.

In a week's worth of big-league action (seven games), Happ has smacked six extra base-hits, scored seven runs and posted a 1.182 OPS. But his impact has been so much more than just the numbers on the back of his Topps card.

Happ's presence has helped the Cubs reinvent themselves.

The plan heading into the 2017 season was to have Kyle Schwarber lead off and Ben Zobrist reprise his 2016 role as lineup protection for Anthony Rizzo.

But with Schwarber struggling atop the order, Happ's presence has freed up the ever-patient Zobrist to become the team's new leadoff as the week-old rookie is now protecting a perennial MVP candidate in Rizzo.

"It's all based on Ian Happ," Joe Maddon said. "I'm still very aware of protecting Rizzo. And that's where Zobrist came in handy. Now to this point, I'm looking at last month's numbers, Zo's really ascending and Schwarbs has come back a little bit regarding just getting on base.

"So Zo's the most likely candidate among all the groups to try to get on base more often and Rizzo's still protected with Ian. Just moving everybody down one slot with Ian there taking the role of Zobrist, I kinda wanted to give it a try."

It's only one game, but the refurbished lineup scored 13 runs Sunday, collecting 10 extra-base hits and scoring in seven of eight offensive innings.

Happ was right there in the middle of it all, smoking a 108 mph double off the right field wall in the first inning and doubling again later in the game. 

Zobrist homered. Rizzo homered. Bryant — who said hitting third is where he's most comfortable in the lineup — crushed a pair of homers and reached base five times. Schwarber went 1-for-3 with an RBI and a walk.

With Happ's presence bumping Schwarber down in the order, Maddon also has moved back to hitting the pitcher last.

"In my mind's eye, I'm more able or wanting to hit the pitcher ninth again because Schwarber is moved back," Maddon said. "Part of the method was to try to feed Schwarber with a nine-hole hitter."

With Happ in the lineup, the Cubs are averaging 6.3 runs per game. 

Again, it's a small sample size and the Cubs were due for an offensive explosion after a slow start to the season, but Happ has been a central figure.

"Nothing surprises me [with him]," Bryant said. "We all saw what he can do in spring. It's not surprising at all. He's definitely provided a spark for us since he's been up.

"He's just been great out there, moving all over the field. I don't even know what his main position is, but if it's center field, he's out there doing a good job, too."

Willson Contreras helped provide the 2016 Cubs with a jolt of energy when he made his debut in mid-June. Happ is doing the same thing this season, though his arrival has come a month earlier in the 2017 campaign.

Happ has only played one full season of professional baseball and appeared in just 91 games above A-ball before making his big-league debut.

But he's looked like he belongs from the outset, blending into a clubhouse that has welcomed so many young position players over the last few years.

Maddon's message to Happ upon arriving was simple: Why don't you stay a while?

It's not as catchy as "try not to suck," but it has helped Happ relax.

"Sometimes, we underestimate the impact we have on anybody," Maddon said. "In my situation, as a manager to the player, so you say something like that just trying to get somebody to relax and who knows?

"Like Javy with 'try not to suck' a couple years ago, who knows how it's processed and how it permits the player to process the day? I knew how good [Happ] was in spring training, I knew how good he's been this season and I just know how he is.

"So there was no reason for him not to approach it like, 'I want to stay a while.'"

Happ spent most of his time in the minors as a second baseman, but with Baez and Zobrist around, Maddon doesn't see a way to work the rookie in the infield at this time.

But then again, two weeks ago, nobody could fathom how the Cubs could possibly work another position player into the lineup on a consistent basis, but that's worked itself out. Right now, it's Albert Almora Jr. being relegated to the bench as Happ has taken over in center field.

Of course, there's still more than four months left in the season and things will undoubtedly change again. 

But for now, Happ has forced the issue and altered the entire identity of the 2017 Cubs.