At a time when the story about Starlin Castro should be his return to the All-Star Game, the 24-year-old shortstop is finding his name in trade rumors.
Since the Cubs traded for Addison Russell - an elite shortstop prospect - in the Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel deal with the Oakland A's, there have been rumblings Castro might not be long for Chicago, especially with the Cubs needing young pitching.
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But the Cubs could conceivably find room for Castro, Russell and Javier Baez in their everyday lineup. And Castro is showing why he was worth a $60 million investment.
After enduring a disappointing 2013 season, Castro has bounced back with a .276 average and .766 OPS while earning another invitation to the Midsummer Classic.
Despite a .143 stretch with zero extra-base hits in the nine games before the break, Castro is on pace for career highs in homers, doubles, RBI and walks while taking strides in the field and emerging as one of the best shortstops in the National League.
Hall of Famer Barry Larkin likes the progression he's seen from Castro.
"When every baseball player starts out, he starts out from a certain place mentally as well as physically and it's just a matter of timing up the mechanics and technique so that you execute it the same way," Larkin said. "The biggest difference between the guys that are successful and the guys that aren't successful are the guys that can make the adjustments mentally.
"And if he can make the adjustments mentally, he certainly has all the physical tools to be a dominant player in the league."
Russell has drawn comparisons to Larkin - with more power. Those are strong words for a 20-year-old who has played just 23 games above the A-ball level. Nobody knows for sure yet if he will develop into the type of frontline shortstop that could move Castro off the position.
Castro, meanwhile, has never played on a winning team in Chicago. The top prospects are coming, but they're not here yet, and the Cubs are streaking toward another last-place finish.
“It’s tough, but we keep fighting,” Castro said. “Let’s see. We’ll try to play harder and maybe in the second half we’ll be much better.”
Castro has been ripped on national TV for zoning out and a lack of focus. But despite all the losing and the criticism, he will have more than 800 hits and three All-Star selections on his resume before his 25th birthday.
Larkin - the 1995 NL MVP who went to 12 All-Star Games, won three Gold Gloves at shortstop and collected more than 2,300 hits in his 19-year career with the Cincinnati Reds - knows what it takes to stay focused over a 162-game season.
"You're a professional," Larkin said. "You have a job to do. You have to pay attention and do your job. Your job requires you to be fully invested all the time. It's just a matter of building it. It's nothing to be learned. It's nothing to be taught. It's just a matter of doing it.
"You have to pay attention to detail in order to do your job well. The game is humbling. If you don't pay attention, the game will catch up to you. It's just a matter of what's important to you."