Cubs betting Castro won't believe the hype

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Cubs betting Castro won't believe the hype

Sunday, Feb. 20, 2011
Posted: 8:00 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. The Cubs believe in Starlin Castro so much that they paired him opposite Derek Jeter in their marketing campaign. He is their homegrown shortstop, in a city filled with temptations and great expectations.

All this is happening before Castros 21st birthday, which he will celebrate next month. The Cubs are confident that he can handle the attention, and all that comes with playing in a big market.

Better him to be on those billboards than me, manager Mike Quade said.

Castro hasnt seen those yet, but hes aware of the advertisements. Castro is proud of and humbled by the comparison to Jeter and what he stands for.

The runaway hopes for Castro accelerated when he homered in his first big-league at-bat. He had six RBI that night in Cincinnati, a major-league record for a debut. He finished the season hitting right at .300.

When asked Sunday what hes working on, Castro cut off third-base coach Ivan DeJesus before he could translate the question.

Defense, Castro said.

That is the point of emphasis as Castro tries to build off a rookie season in which he impressed with his offensive potential, but also committed more errors (27) than every other major-league player except for one.

By any metric, the Cubs need to improve defensively. They finished last season tied for last in the National League in fielding percentage (.979). Only two teams committed more errors (126). Their Ultimate Zone Rating (-7.3) was below average. They need to be stronger up the middle with Castro.

(Its) the ability to relax and do things second nature when its bases loaded and one out in the eighth of a tie game, Quade said. Everybodys got a little different learning curve, (but) hes talented enough that I expect him to improve quickly. (Hell) work and weve got good people pushing him.

Quade benched Castro last September and though others described it as a turning point in his six-week audition for the job, the manager does not view it that way.

That didnt happen because he thought he had it licked, Quade said. Sometimes you think its a little too much right now and maybe (it) gets taken as discipline or whatever. But it really wasnt (I) really thought it was a teaching moment for the kid to step back.

Is he not hustling? Are the mistakes lazy mistakes? Are they indecisive mistakes?

A mental lapse that he would have from time to time (is) a whole lot different than physical. You pop up a ball in the infield and stand at home plate while its caught? ... Thats not what were talking about here.

Several members of the organization visited Castro this offseason in the Dominican Republic, where he played winter ball and the Cubs are trying to mine talent and build a state-of-the-art academy.

The Cubs have a lot riding on the idea of Castro. They are not alone banking on a young star in a city where Derrick Rose an MVP candidate at age 22 packs the United Center nightly. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are 22 and already have a Stanley Cup banner hanging there. Jeter isnt the only model for Castro.

(Castros) grown up, said catcher Welington Castillo, another well-regarded player the Cubs signed out of the Dominican Republic. Hes got a good mentality. Hes a really good person, a good teammate. Hes always happy over here. (He) will be better, too.

Castro said he knows about the sophomore jinx, but doesnt pay much attention to it. He said he understands that you can learn by watching. He has a locker near two guys he dreamed of one day playing with Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez. He values their friendship.

Soriano took Castro under his wing last year, the same way great Yankees like Mariano Rivera and Bernie Williams once did for him in New York. Castro wont be living at Sorianos place in Chicago this season, but he doesnt have to be completely independent.

Castro brought his family out to Arizona for spring training. On Sunday Quade met Castros father for the first time. A support system is in place.

Yes, the Cubs are using Castro to sell tickets now, and in June the Yankees are coming to Wrigley Field. But Castro says hes just trying to make the team.

Theres enough veteran presence around here, Quade said. Hell remember who he is and how much work he has to do. I dont see him getting all wrapped up in that kind of celebrity or fame. If he does, he wont accomplish all the things were so excited about him possibly (doing).

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

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

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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."