Sunday, Feb. 20, 2011
Posted: 8:00 PM
By Patrick Mooney
MESA, Ariz. The Cubs believe in Starlin Castro so much that they paired him opposite Derek Jeter in their marketing campaign. He is their homegrown shortstop, in a city filled with temptations and great expectations.
All this is happening before Castros 21st birthday, which he will celebrate next month. The Cubs are confident that he can handle the attention, and all that comes with playing in a big market.
Better him to be on those billboards than me, manager Mike Quade said.
Castro hasnt seen those yet, but hes aware of the advertisements. Castro is proud of and humbled by the comparison to Jeter and what he stands for.
The runaway hopes for Castro accelerated when he homered in his first big-league at-bat. He had six RBI that night in Cincinnati, a major-league record for a debut. He finished the season hitting right at .300.
When asked Sunday what hes working on, Castro cut off third-base coach Ivan DeJesus before he could translate the question.
Defense, Castro said.
That is the point of emphasis as Castro tries to build off a rookie season in which he impressed with his offensive potential, but also committed more errors (27) than every other major-league player except for one.
By any metric, the Cubs need to improve defensively. They finished last season tied for last in the National League in fielding percentage (.979). Only two teams committed more errors (126). Their Ultimate Zone Rating (-7.3) was below average. They need to be stronger up the middle with Castro.
(Its) the ability to relax and do things second nature when its bases loaded and one out in the eighth of a tie game, Quade said. Everybodys got a little different learning curve, (but) hes talented enough that I expect him to improve quickly. (Hell) work and weve got good people pushing him.
Quade benched Castro last September and though others described it as a turning point in his six-week audition for the job, the manager does not view it that way.
That didnt happen because he thought he had it licked, Quade said. Sometimes you think its a little too much right now and maybe (it) gets taken as discipline or whatever. But it really wasnt (I) really thought it was a teaching moment for the kid to step back.
Is he not hustling? Are the mistakes lazy mistakes? Are they indecisive mistakes?
A mental lapse that he would have from time to time (is) a whole lot different than physical. You pop up a ball in the infield and stand at home plate while its caught? ... Thats not what were talking about here.
Several members of the organization visited Castro this offseason in the Dominican Republic, where he played winter ball and the Cubs are trying to mine talent and build a state-of-the-art academy.
The Cubs have a lot riding on the idea of Castro. They are not alone banking on a young star in a city where Derrick Rose an MVP candidate at age 22 packs the United Center nightly. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are 22 and already have a Stanley Cup banner hanging there. Jeter isnt the only model for Castro.
(Castros) grown up, said catcher Welington Castillo, another well-regarded player the Cubs signed out of the Dominican Republic. Hes got a good mentality. Hes a really good person, a good teammate. Hes always happy over here. (He) will be better, too.
Castro said he knows about the sophomore jinx, but doesnt pay much attention to it. He said he understands that you can learn by watching. He has a locker near two guys he dreamed of one day playing with Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez. He values their friendship.
Soriano took Castro under his wing last year, the same way great Yankees like Mariano Rivera and Bernie Williams once did for him in New York. Castro wont be living at Sorianos place in Chicago this season, but he doesnt have to be completely independent.
Castro brought his family out to Arizona for spring training. On Sunday Quade met Castros father for the first time. A support system is in place.
Yes, the Cubs are using Castro to sell tickets now, and in June the Yankees are coming to Wrigley Field. But Castro says hes just trying to make the team.
Theres enough veteran presence around here, Quade said. Hell remember who he is and how much work he has to do. I dont see him getting all wrapped up in that kind of celebrity or fame. If he does, he wont accomplish all the things were so excited about him possibly (doing).
PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.