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.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Patrick Mooney goes one-on-one with Jed Hoyer

hoyer.jpg
USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Patrick Mooney goes one-on-one with Jed Hoyer

On the latest edition of the Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull and Luke Stuckmeyer talk about the first week of spring training. 

The two discuss ace contracts, leadoff intimidation and give their thoughts on the Sammy Sosa saga. 

Plus CSNChicago.com Cubs Insider Patrick Mooney goes one-on-one with general manager Jed Hoyer. 

Listen to the Cubs Talk Podcast below. 

Cubs eager to see the Jason Heyward relaunch in Cactus League

Cubs eager to see the Jason Heyward relaunch in Cactus League

MESA, Ariz. — Cactus League stats are supposed to be irrelevant, especially for the guy with the biggest contract in franchise history. Jason Heyward already built up a reservoir of goodwill as a former All Star, three-time Gold Glove defender and World Series champion. The intangibles got Heyward $184 million guaranteed, and the Cubs are hoping a new comfort level will lead to a Jon Lester effect in Year 2 of that megadeal.

But Heyward will still be one of the most scrutinized players in Mesa after an offseason overhaul that tried to recapture the rhythm and timing he felt with the 2012 Braves (27 homers) and break some of the bad habits that had slowly crept into his high-maintenance left-handed swing.

"If there's ever any doubt," Heyward said, "then you probably shouldn't be here."

Heyward will be batting leadoff and starting in right field on Saturday afternoon when the Cubs open their exhibition schedule with a split-squad game against the A's at Sloan Park. If Heyward has anything to prove this spring, it's "probably to himself, not to us," general manager Jed Hoyer said, backing a player who does the little things so well and commands respect throughout the clubhouse.

"There's going to be growing pains with making adjustments," Hoyer said. "He'll probably have some good days and some bad days. But I think the most important thing is that he feels comfortable and uses these five weeks to lock in and get ready for the Cardinals."

The Cubs are betting on Heyward's age (27), track record (three seasons where he showed up in the National League MVP voting), understanding of the strike zone (.346 career on-base percentage) and willingness to break down his swing this winter at the team's Arizona complex.

At the same time, Heyward realizes "it's just the offseason" and "a never-ending process in baseball." There are no sweeping conclusions to be made when the opposing starting pitcher showers, talks to the media and leaves the stadium before the game ends.

"I'm not sitting here telling you: 'Oh, I know for sure what's going to happen,'" Heyward said. "I don't know how it's going to go. But I know I did a damn good job of preparing for it."

[MORE CUBS: No hard feelings: Cubs and Pedro Strop look to future with contract extension]

Manager Joe Maddon — who gave Heyward nearly 600 plate appearances to figure it out during the regular season (.631 OPS) before turning him into a part-time outfielder in the playoffs (5-for-48) — usually thinks batting practice is overrated or a waste of time. But at 6-foot-5 — and with so much riding on an offensive resurgence — Heyward is hard to miss.

"I can see it's a lot freer and the ball's coming off hotter," Maddon said. "But it's all about game. I'm really eager for him, because everybody just talks about all the work he's done all winter.

"Conversationally with him, I sense or feel like he feels good about it and that he's kind of at a nice peaceful moment with himself. So it will be really fun to watch."

A 103-win season, an American League-style lineup that scored 808 runs, a new appreciation for defensive metrics and a professional attitude helped provide cover for Heyward, who largely escaped the wrath of Cubs fans with little patience for big-ticket free agents.

"Baseball is a game that's going to humble you every day," Heyward said. "You're going to fail more times than you succeed, so it's all about how you handle it, as an individual and as a group. We handled it the best out of anyone last year as a team. And that's why we were able to win the World Series.

"There's always things you feel like you need to work on. You can ask guys who had the best years — there's always something they're trying to improve on and something they don't feel great about at a certain point in time during the year.

"I just happened to have a little bit more breaking down to do. A lot of things allowed me to just kind of pause (and) look forward and not really think about trying to compete and win a game. Let's just get some work done."