Cubs: Can Rick Renteria get through to Starlin Castro?

Cubs: Can Rick Renteria get through to Starlin Castro?
December 3, 2013, 9:30 pm
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Tony Andracki

Until the top prospects hit Wrigley Field, there is nothing to take the focus off Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo at the big league level.

[RELATED: Rizzo Watch: Renteria honing in on development of Cubs first baseman]

Every at-bat will be scrutinized, every stat broken down. Cubs fans are getting impatient after 197 losses over the last two years.

Castro is coming off the worst professional season of his career as he saw his average drop to .245 and his OPS dip from .753 in 2012 to .631 in 2013. In part, his struggles cost manager Dale Sveum and hitting coaches James Rowson and Rob Deer their jobs.

Can the new tandem of manager Rick Renteria and hitting coach Bill Mueller get the two-time All Star back on track? Renteria will meet the Chicago media on Thursday at Wrigley Field, where there should be plenty of questions about Castro, one of the few players on this team who moves the needle. 

[MORE: Cubs hire Eric Hinske as first-base coach]

"We had some mixed messages and, unfortunately, some players were pulled in a couple different directions," team president Theo Epstein said recently. "Ultimately, that falls back on me to provide the right personnel and the right messaging so that it's one message."

Epstein’s front office preaches patience and selective aggressiveness at the plate, two concepts that haven’t been central to Castro’s game. The franchise shortstop has drawn 130 walks in more than 2,600 plate appearances.

But that approach had been working for Castro through the middle of the 2012 season. By his 22nd birthday, he had already collected 346 hits and had two .300 seasons to his name.

Since the 2012 All-Star break — shortly after former hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo was fired — Castro has hit .254 in 968 at-bats. Multiple voices have been in his ear, tinkering with his swing and approach.

[RELATED: As Cubs shape roster, Samardzija remains question mark]

"We do stand for something from an offensive standpoint," Epstein said. "We like to control the zone, we like to get on base. You can look at the track record of those Red Sox teams. Look at the two teams in the World Series — the Cardinals and the Red Sox. It's pretty darn important to grind your at-bats, get a pitch you can drive and get yourself on base.

"That's what we need to do. Not every player gets there right away or not every player hits right away. So we have to make sure that we teach it in a way that allows players to be themselves, that allows aggressiveness to carry players for whom aggressiveness in the count is important.

"From the hitting coach to the second hitting coach to the manager to the front office, we all have to be on the same page to put everybody in position to succeed and that's having one message — not one message for every player."

The Cubs are banking on Renteria to help get that message across to guys like Castro, Rizzo and the top prospects that are expected to roll into Chicago over the next couple of seasons.

Renteria's ability to speak Spanish might be a necessity rather than a luxury, given the amount of Latin American players who are part of the organization’s long-range plans. He should be able to communicate clearly with Castro, Welington Castillo, Junior Lake, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Arismendy Alcantara.

[MORE: Did Kane County stint prepare Renteria for Chicago?]

This isn't something new for Renteria, who grew up in Southern California and managed Team Mexico in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

"I'm hoping that I am a good coach that happens to speak Spanish," Renteria said after he was hired in early November. "But I think the ability to communicate in the same language sometimes creates a little bit of a comfort zone, allowing those players to possibly gain some confidence.

"The reality is that baseball is played between the lines and it has its own language. That language is performance and the recognition of a good action. Players can look at each other, smile and be confident about each other.

"But the aspect of being able to communicate — especially if you're able to teach — I think it plays an important part in being able to make sure that you articulate a certain concept or idea that sometimes can be lost in translation.”