Mooney: Plotting the future for Castro, Colvin

Mooney: Plotting the future for Castro, Colvin

Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2010
9:48 PM
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Within a span of about 72 hours and less than a year removed from Class-A Daytona Starlin Castro learned all you need to know about playing in Chicago.

Castro showed up in Cincinnati on May 7 and looked like the spark an underachieving team needed. He homered in his first at-bat and set a major-league record with six RBI in his debut.

Three nights later, he was booed during his first game at Wrigley Field. He committed three errors and didnt run after a ball, nearly becoming a billboard for lack of hustle.

Between those highs and lows, the 20-year-old shortstop has found a medium. With five plate appearances Monday night, he qualified for the leader board and entered Tuesday fifth in the National League with a .313 batting average.

Yes, Ian Desmond (29) is the only player in the majors who has committed more errors than Castro (20) this season, and the Washington Nationals shortstop has been on this level for about a month longer in 2010.

But Castro is a willing student, and hes shown that he cares, slamming his helmet to the ground several times in frustration after making an out. Hes made the adjustments, hitting .227 in June, .361 in July and .331 this month.

Adrenalines a wonderful thing, manager Mike Quade said. But then he had a little down period and recovered really quickly to do what hes doing now. (If) you finish strong after everybody has a look at you (around the league), that says a lot about your talent.

Cubs vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita who oversees the minor-league system and international scouting operations expects Castro to train at the teams academy in the Dominican Republic during the offseason.

By late November, Fleita would also like to see Castro playing winter ball. There is a relationship with Leones del Escogido, where general manager Moises Alou put together a team that won last years Caribbean World Series.

Now its easy to envision Castro as the Cubs shortstop for the next decade. Less clear is where exactly Tyler Colvin fits into those plans.

Colvin, who will turn 25 next week, continues to work out at first base before games. Quade likes to plan several days in advance and does not see Colvin starting there this weekend against the New York Mets.

On Monday the outfielder fired a bullet from right to throw out a runner and it made Quade think of Andre Dawson, the eight-time Gold Glove winner who was honored that night at Wrigley Field.

Thats why we dont want to get carried away with it, Quade said. He does an excellent job in the outfield (and) his work at first will not hurt him at all defensively out there. His diligence to both positions will take care of that. Its just something to fool around with, but its not imminent at all.

If Colvin proves he can handle playing first base, it would give the Cubs options heading into 2011. But they also dont want to mess with a player whos had a nice rookie season but is struggling in August with a .227 average and a .284 on-base percentage. He has to reach a certain comfort level.

You got to find out about the kids one way or the other, Quade said. Given the situation were in, you wouldnt do it against a contender, for sure, but its not out of the question. Theres (29) games left and wed still like to do that.

Those are the decisions being played out all across the organization. The minor-league clubs woke up Tuesday morning with a 356-299 cumulative record and Triple-A Iowa and Double-A Tennessee looking to win championships.

The Cubs have assigned seven players to the Arizona Fall League. Outfielder Brett Jackson, a 2009 first-round pick, will be there alongside infielder Josh Vitters. The third overall pick in 2007 draft, Vitters broke his finger last month but is expected to begin taking groundballs and hitting within the next several days.

Pitchers Kyle Smit, who was acquired in the Ted Lilly deal, and David Cales, a Mount Carmel High School graduate, will also head to Arizona. Pitchers Chris Carpenter and Jake Muyco and infielder Ryan Flaherty will be joining them in Mesa.

Considering that Castro played in the Arizona Fall League last year, and that an organization stressing player development has already used 16 rookies this season, the desert doesnt seem that far away from Lake Michigan.

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

Theo Epstein tops Fortune's list of World's 50 Greatest Leaders

Theo Epstein tops Fortune's list of World's 50 Greatest Leaders

The Cubs keep raking in the accolades.

Theo Epstein is the latest to be honored, with Fortune naming the Cubs president of baseball operations No. 1 on the newly-released list of the World's 50 Greatest Leaders.

Epstein — the architect of the Cubs team that ended a 108-year championship drought — beat out such names as Pope Francis, John McCain, LeBron James and Joe Biden.

Fellow Chicagoan and White Sox ambassador Chance the Rapper also made the list at No. 46.

The rationale for Epstein includes:

In his book The Cubs Way, Sports Illustrated senior baseball writer Tom Verducci details the five-year rebuilding plan that led to the team’s victory. The Cubs owe their success to a concatenation of different leadership styles, from the affable patience of owner Tom Ricketts to the innovative eccentricity of manager Joe Maddon. But most important of all was the evolution of club president Theo Epstein, the wunderkind executive who realized he would need to grow as a leader in order to replicate in Chicago the success he’d had with the Boston Red Sox. In the following passages, Verducci describes how a deeper understanding of important human qualities among his players—the character, discipline, and chemistry that turn skilled athletes into leaders—­enabled Epstein to engineer one of the most remarkable turnarounds in sports.

For more on why Epstein and the Cubs topped the list, head to Fortune.com.

Epstein had a classic reaction to the honor, texting ESPN's Buster Olney:

"Um, I can't even get my dog to stop peeing in the house. That is ridiculous. The whole thing is patently ridiculous. It's baseball - a pastime involving a lot of chance. If Zobrist's ball is three inches farther off the line, I'm on the hot seat for a failed five-year plan. And I'm not even the best leader in our organization; our players are."

Now what? Jon Lester driven to deliver more World Series titles to Chicago

Now what? Jon Lester driven to deliver more World Series titles to Chicago

MESA, Ariz. — Now what? Ryan Dempster believes these Cubs are young enough, hungry enough and talented enough to become the first group to win back-to-back World Series since the three-peat New York Yankees built a dynasty with titles in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000.

But Dempster already understands the expectations at Wrigley Field this season, especially after pitching on disappointing Cubs teams that got swept out of the playoffs and working as a special assistant in Theo Epstein's front office.

"Nothing can top it," Dempster said. "You can win 162 games and sweep everybody in the playoffs and it won't be as exciting for people, other than maybe the guys playing it."

That's why Jon Lester isn't putting up the "Mission Accomplished" banner at his locker, even though the Cubs had the parade down Michigan Avenue in mind when they gave him the biggest contract in franchise history at the time. Dempster — who also earned a World Series ring with the 2013 Boston Red Sox — had given Lester a scouting report as the Cubs went all-out in their pursuit of the big-game lefty.

There are still four years left on Lester's $155 million megadeal. It has been less than five months since the Cubs finally won the World Series and unleashed an epic celebration.

"Now the hard part is you don't get complacent," Lester said Wednesday after throwing six innings against an Oakland A's minor-league squad at the Sloan Park complex. "I talk about these young guys — that's where that helps. Even though you've accomplished things personally, you still want these guys to accomplish things.

"That's where that drive still gets you. You don't want to let your teammates down. You still want to be accountable for what you do. And that means showing up and doing your work in between starts and in the offseason."

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Lester believed so much in Epstein's vision, the pipeline of talent about to burst and the lure of Chicago that he signed with a last-place team. The Cubs needed a symbol to show they were serious about winning, a clubhouse tone-setter and an anchor for their rotation.

A new comfort level in Year 2 of that contract helped explain how Lester performed as an All Star, a Cy Young Award finalist and the National League Championship Series co-MVP. But Lester wants to make sure that the Cubs don't get too comfortable — or feel like they're playing with house money.

"You enjoy that, you learn from it," Lester said. "The biggest thing is not getting complacent with yourself and with your teammates. That's what drives me, making sure I'm prepared to pitch.

"I'm called upon every five days, and I have to be there. That's where that goal of 30 starts and 200 innings comes into play. I feel like if I do that, then I've done my job, for my teammates and this organization.

"The championships and the World Series — that's stuff you can't predict. It's stuff you strive to do every single year. So that's all we're going to focus on again. Our team goal again is to win a World Series."