Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011
Posted 7:25 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
MESA, Ariz. The Cubs want to push Starlin Castro without overwhelming him. There will already be enough pressure on the young shortstop.
Castro, who will turn 21 next month, knows he has to focus on his defense. With more game experience he should cut down on the 27 errors he committed last season. He will realize when to throw the ball, when to hold it and when to take a moment to let the game slow down.
Eventually Castros natural instincts should take over, and with his range and ability to track pop-ups he should become a quality defender.
And if Castro continues to evolve offensively, he could become the more traditional leadoff hitter the Cubs have been lacking. But manager Mike Quade isnt ready to give him those responsibilities just yet.
He hasnt earned the right to figure hes going to hit anywhere, Quade said Thursday at Fitch Park.
The Cubs dont want to hand Castro anything, but he finished 10th in the National League last year with a .300 average and settled nicely into the No. 2 spot.
Theres all sorts of value where hes at right now, Quade said. Id like to think hes going to be talented enough to possibly be that guy someday. But for right now itll be something well consider, (though) Id just as soon leave him and hope he proves me wrong.
Castro can only draw from less than 1,500 at-bats as a professional. Hes played in only 125 games in the majors. But hes also shown the ability to adapt.
Castro hit .339 (43-for-127) against left-handers and finished with 41 hits last August, the most for any Cubs rookie in any month since Ernie Banks in 1954. The Cubs are getting tired of the sophomore jinx story line.
I am leery about the second-year thing, Quade said. If we want this guy to play well (and) get off to a decent start with all the adjustments that are going to be made by other clubs on him, (then) well leave him somewhere we believe hes comfortable.
It may not be all that statistically significant where Castro hits in the lineup. But like the Opening Day starter question, it can be revealing about a manager and his clubhouse.
Ryan Dempster will pitch April 1 because he earned it with his performance and professionalism. Quade looked at the matchups and felt good enough about his relationship with Carlos Zambrano to tell him that he wouldnt be starting that day.
Quade will make concessions to Aramis Ramirez, who wants to hit cleanup and has been an RBI machine when healthy.
He doesnt figure to be one of those guys Ill mix and match with, Quade said. Some guys dont care, and I know he does. He seems like the four-hole to me.
The Cubs used nine different leadoff hitters and nine different cleanup hitters last season, a sign of their offensive dysfunction. Depending on his mood, Lou Piniella could be amused or annoyed by the daily lineup questions.
Quade tries to work two or three days in advance while scheduling this out. Ultimately, hell take the long view, on Castro and anyone else who produces enough to demand playing time.
Im a grown-up I reserve the right to change my opinion, Quade said. (But) the less worrying I have to do about lineups, the easier my summer will be, and thats the Gods honest truth. Because that means that guys have really taken charge and are doing things that make it easy for me.
PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.