Chicago Cubs

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.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Which Cub will make biggest impact down the stretch?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Which Cub will make biggest impact down the stretch?

Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000), Chris Hine (Chicago Tribune) and Jordan Bernfield join David Kaplan on the panel. Jon Lester, Addison Russell and Willson Contreras all work out with the Cubs before their game. Which player’s return with have the biggest impact down the stretch?

Plus, the guys discuss how many snaps Mitch Trubisky should take with the first team, debate who won the big Cavs/Celtics deal and Scott Paddock drops by with the latest NASCAR news.

Listen to the SportsTalk Live Podcast below. 

Mike Montgomery will gladly aid Cubs as spot starter, but could this be a mini audition for 2018 rotation?

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USA TODAY

Mike Montgomery will gladly aid Cubs as spot starter, but could this be a mini audition for 2018 rotation?

Jon Lester isn’t expected to be on the disabled list for long, which of course is great news for the Cubs.

But while he’s there, it’s once again time for Mike Montgomery to audition for a spot in the team’s 2018 starting rotation.

The Cubs are facing the possibility of losing two members of that starting staff this offseason, when both Jake Arrieta and John Lackey will be free agents. Montgomery seems like a logical replacement, but he’ll need to be better than he’s been as a starter this season. He’s put up a 5.13 ERA in eight starts.

He’ll get another opportunity to show his stuff over the next week or so, as he makes one or two spot starts with Lester on the shelf resting up his left lat tightness and general shoulder fatigue.

“I don’t want to see anybody get hurt, especially our ace. But it’s a challenge. I’m looking forward to going out there and helping the team win,” Montgomery said over the weekend. “I’m going to go out there and prepare and be ready to help this team get to the playoffs.”

Montgomery doesn’t have to worry about instilling confidence in his bosses. Joe Maddon and Theo Epstein both lauded Montgomery’s efforts since he was acquired about a year ago, in the middle of the 2016 team’s march to that curse-smashing World Series win. It was Montgomery who earned the save in Game 7.

And again this season Montgomery has given plenty of reason for those guys to have confidence in him. He’s turned in a strong 2.57 ERA in 27 relief appearances, one of the more reliable arms out of what is becoming an increasingly shaky bullpen. This past Thursday, he relieved the early-to-depart Lester, pitching 4.1 shutout innings and allowing just three hits and a walk against the Cincinnati Reds.

Throw in the versatility of being able to effectively switch between starting and relieving, and that’s a recipe for sticking on a big league roster.

“He’s good about bouncing back and forth,” Maddon said. “He’s been invaluable to us the last couple years. He’s still learning his craft. Every time I talk to him it’s kind of like the little lightbulb constantly goes off for him regarding his stuff and how to utilize it. That’s what I’ve been talking about with him the last couple years. This guy’s got all kinds of tools in the toolbox but he doesn’t really know how to utilize them all, and I think he’s finally understanding the cutter, the curve, the changeup to go with the fastball. He’s one of those guys that he should never get wild with his fastball because his pitches are so good and he can throw them for a strike.”

Montgomery’s reliability has been enough that Epstein said there’s no plan for the Cubs to add another starting pitcher before this month’s waiver trade deadline. Of course, the fact that Lester’s injury isn’t as bad as initially feared and the July acquisition of Jose Quintana factors into that, as well.

“We’ve expended a lot of prospect capital trying to make this team better. We think it’s just a start or two (that Lester will miss), and Mike Montgomery is more than capable of filling in,” Epstein said. “He’s thrown the ball really well, like what we saw from him (Thursday). So we’re going to fill that vacancy internally with Mike and go from there.”

While every start made by any pitcher this season seems important — the Cubs entered Monday’s day off with just a two-game lead on the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central standings, with a playoff spot hardly guaranteed — Montgomery’s efforts could have just as great an effect on next season. If Arrieta and Lackey both end up departing via free agency, the Cubs will need some replacements. Montgomery figures to be among the first options, especially if this midseason audition goes well.

Of course, Montgomery is happy to do whatever he needs to to help his team. He’s not complaining about a bullpen role or one that has him shuttling between the relief corps and the rotation. But he admitted that starting is his goal, meaning the importance of this moment likely hasn't been lost on him.

“Yeah, absolutely, I wanted to start. But also I wanted to be a guy who could fill another role and hopes that makes our team better,” he said. “If me starting makes us better in their mind, then that’s what I want ideally. But I’ve realized I can’t always control that, I can go out there and pitch well. If I pitch well, they’re probably going to give me more opportunities, which is probably going to lead to starting.

“I think it’s because I spent five years in Triple-A from the time I was 21 and I had a bigger ego. And then you realize that you just want to be in the big leagues and that Triple-A kind of stinks. I think it’s just how I’ve gotten to this point. And coming here last year from a team that was trying to get in the playoffs to a team that was clearly going to win the division, you realize that your role isn’t to come here and start making demands, it’s to come here and just do your job.”

Right now, the Cubs need Montgomery to fill the void while Lester rests up. And if he can make his starts look a little more like his bullpen outings, he’ll do just that. And if that’s what happens, maybe they’ll call on him next season to do a whole lot more.