Cubs looking for Starlin Castro to take it to the next level

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Cubs looking for Starlin Castro to take it to the next level

Starlin Castro shrugged off striking out with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning. Not much seems to bother him, and that has to be considered one of his strengths.

Castro lost that battle to Milwaukee Brewers closer John Axford on Monday night and froze at the 96 mph fastball that ended the game. Castros attitude: Next time.

That also broke Castros streak of reaching base safely in 43 consecutive games, which dated back to Aug. 15 of last season.

Keep going, Castro said Tuesday. You got to keep going.

That sums up a 22-year-old All-Star shortstop who thinks Why not? when people ask him about 3,000 hits, the Hall of Fame and being the Derek Jeter of the North Side.

If Castro is going to reach those heights or crash the Cubs should get a better idea in his third year in the majors. When team president Theo Epstein talks about parallel fronts, Castro is pretty much at the center of the Venn diagram.

Its a pretty good building block, general manager Jed Hoyer said. Its so easy with him to forget about his age and you think about him as an established guy. Well, hes probably younger that some of the top prospects in the game and hes already hit .300 in the big leagues twice. So sometimes I think we lose sight of that.

Starlin is one of the best young players in the game. Hes already proven at the big-league level (and) we all think theres a lot more in there. I think there is a lot of power in there at some point. Young shortstops make errors. The key (is) concentration. Its every single pitch.

Manager Dale Sveum, an old shortstop, made that a point of emphasis from the first workout in spring training, showing Castro how to gain more ground. Their relationship will be a key part of this rebuilding project.

By October, Castro should have played more than 430 games in the big leagues, perhaps approaching a leadership position within the clubhouse. He will have to cut down on the 56 errors in his first two seasons combined.

Its that time to mature defensively, to mature on the mental side of the game, Sveum said. Hes been very good at responding to everything you ask him to do. I think he realizes that hes going to be held accountable.

Hes pushing himself, putting it on himself, challenging himself each day to see how good he can be on the 100 groundballs hes taken. Thats a big step for any young player to critique himself on his day of work.

For the future of the franchise, Sveum felt it was time to commit to Castro as the No. 3 hitter.

Plate discipline is one area where the Cubs think Castro can unlock some power and take another leap forward. As the Brewers hitting coach, Sveum saw what it did for Ryan Braun (even if some will put an asterisk next to that MVP award).

It just puts you in a whole nother category, Sveum said. The bottom line to hitting home runs is getting a good pitch to hit. Youre not going to hit many home runs if you dont wait for a pitch (where you can) drive the ball out of the ballpark.

Castro found his name in the headlines for the wrong reasons last winter, though people close to him privately insist theres no story there. The kid is still smiling, and really just getting started.

Any player has to (have it) in their own mind that youre always a work in progress, Sveum said. Its just understanding that every single day when we take a field, youre trying to make yourself a better player.

Thats the work in progress, but thats (something) Ive tried to implement with everyone else: Youve never got this thing figured out. You always have to make your skills better every single day or your skills will deteriorate. I dont care how good you are thats just the nature of the beast.

Increased velocity has improved Anthony Swarzak's chances of making White Sox bullpen

Increased velocity has improved Anthony Swarzak's chances of making White Sox bullpen

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Anthony Swarzak has thrown harder than ever this spring. He attributes it to an altered mindset rather than mechanics or delivery.

Vying for a relief role with three days left in camp, the veteran is right where he wants to be — with a shot to make the White Sox Opening Day roster. A nonroster invitee to camp, Swarzak is one of five healthy pitchers in a competition for the final two spots in the bullpen. With a fastball that has averaged nearly 96 mph this spring, Swarzak has a 3.86 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings.

"All you want is an opportunity in camp," Swarzak said. "I knew I was going to get an opportunity in camp here. I've kind of been around a little bit. I've got some innings under my belt. When you're going into camp as a guy with experience, you're generally going to get a fair look. And that's all I wanted, a fair chance to show the team what I can do and hopefully someone makes a decision.

"I'm throwing the ball pretty well, definitely how I wanted to coming in."

A starter early in his career, Swarzak's average fastball velocity ranged from 91-92 mph from 2011-15. After going up a tick to 93 last season, Swarzak has thrown even harder this spring. According to Brooksbaseball.net, Swarzak's fastball touched 97 mph and averaged 95.75 mph in his one contest in front of a PitchTrax system this spring on March 21.

But Swarzak, 31, said the only adjustment he has made is a mental one.

"Early on in my career you get so conscious of injuries from other people, veterans talking to a young guy, 'Just be careful man, you only have so many bullets,'" Swarzak said. "Subconsciously you kind of save some for whenever you might need it down the line. And I think these last few years I'm getting to that age where nothing is guaranteed for me so I'm kind of letting it all out there and I think I found another gear somewhere. I don't think it's anything delivery-wise or body-wise, I think I'm just trying harder to throw hard for the first time in a long time and it's working."

Swarzak's former life as a starting pitcher could serve him well. With Carlos Rodon likely to start the season on the disabled list, the White Sox could turn to a combination of Dylan Covey and Swarzak in a bullpen-esque type of start on either April 8 or 9.

Swarzak threw 30-plus pitches and struck out five in 2 1/3 innings at Mesa, Ariz. on Friday before he headed to the bullpen to throw a few more. Of Swarzak's 217 big league appearances, 32 were as a starter.

"He has been able to do that," manager Rick Renteria said. "He's started in the past. So, he does certainly fit that potential role. I know (Don Cooper) has been talking about trying to stretch him out a little bit, get two or three innings out of him. He can fill in for us in terms of multiple innings."

Swarzak threw a side session on Monday morning. He's next to scheduled to throw in Wednesday's Cactus League finale. But he has already accomplished all he wants to this spring short of making the team.

"I did everything I needed to do," Swarzak said. "I'm happy with how it has gone and we'll see how it goes the next few days."

Ex-Bear Brandon Marshall an early favorite at NFL owners meetings

Ex-Bear Brandon Marshall an early favorite at NFL owners meetings

PHOENIX – Brandon Marshall never needed a whole lot of encouragement to step before a microphone but the NFL, which sometimes wished he'd put a sock in it, has now invited the former Bears wide receiver to speak up.
 
The NFL extended an invitation for Marshall, whose time in Chicago ended in some measure because of his insistence on pursuing the media portion of his career, to address the league higher-up's ostensibly as part of a communications bridge-building. Marshall jumped at the chance.
 
"They thought it was important for a player to come up and give a player's perspective and talk about the relationship between owners and players," Marshall said on Monday at the outset of the NFL owners meetings. "I think it's evident that our relationship could be so much better."
 
Marshall has been part of Showtime's "Inside the NFL" in recent years, flying to New York to participate in taping the show, and ultimately accepting a trade from the Bears to the Jets in 2015, which obviously cut down on his commute. The Jets released Marshall earlier this month, after which Marshall signed on with the Giants.
 
He told owners this week, "If we want our game to continue to be on that [positive] track, that it's on being super successful and being a pillar in our community and being a thread in our community, we have to make sure our relationship as players and owners is good."

[VIVID SEATS: Get your Bears tickets right here!]
 
The immediate response was more than a little positive: Per San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York:

https://twitter.com/JedYork/status/846400103472480256
 
Marshall predictably welcomed the forum and wants to see it expanded.

"I'd like to see more players be more involved in our owners meetings," Marshall said. "And not only at the owners meetings, but any time we're talking football, we should have players at the table. Commissioner Goodell is always open-minded. He always has that open-door policy. So I think he'll continue to listen and continue to evolve this part of our business."