MESA, Ariz. – Starlin Castro’s I’ve-gotta-be-me moment came when Dale Sveum dropped him to eighth in the lineup one night last August. That was a breaking point – at least publicly – four months after the Cubs manager threatened to send the franchise shortstop to Triple-A Iowa.
It had been building to the point where Castro realized he needed to do it His Way, not necessarily The Cubs Way. That see-the-ball, hit-the-ball approach made him a two-time All-Star by the age of 22 and a marquee attraction at Wrigley Field.
“I didn’t like it, but I don’t make the decision,” Castro said. “Anywhere you want to put me, I’ll try to do my best.”
That’s an honest answer. Even at his low moments, Cubs officials have described Castro as coachable, eager to learn and willing to help the team.
Right or wrong, Sveum took the blame for the mixed messages and got fired after 197 losses in two seasons. Sveum had built a solid track record in player development with the Milwaukee Brewers and developed a reputation as an excellent coach with the Boston Red Sox.
It was a complicated situation the Cubs are now trying to keep simple. Thursday marked the second full-squad workout at Cubs Park, way too early to make any definitive statements about this relationship. But new manager Rick Renteria will likely put Castro in the leadoff spot, hoping he rediscovers that swagger.
“Starlin has had that role in the past – I think he did a pretty nice job based on his skill set,” Renteria said. “He’s not what you would consider a typical on-base guy. But I think as he continues to get more and more comfortable (that can improve).
“Hopefully this is a year in which he recovers maybe some of his confidence – that little edge that he brought – which (everyone) saw when he was coming up.”
Castro is a career .300 hitter with 11 homers and a .345 on-base percentage in 524 plate appearances batting leadoff.
“My choice, I like second or first, but it’s not my decision,” Castro said. “Everywhere he puts me, I try to do my job.”
Renteria was glad – but not surprised – to hear that Castro has spoken to Javier Baez and offered to help the elite shortstop prospect with the transition.
“He’s a young man who has been here and just had a seemingly tumultuous existence,” Renteria said. “He’s very excited. We liked the way he looked in (our) meeting. He was very happy. Quite frankly, we just told him to be himself, expand on his skills and improve his approach at the plate. As a matter of fact, he spoke a bit more than we did.”
Castro will turn 24 next month and enter Year 5 in the big leagues. He’s supposed to be a leader by example in a young clubhouse. The kid who led the National League in hits in 2011 needed a late push to raise his average to .245 by season’s end.
“I’ve never had a bad season like that one,” Castro said. “It’s tough for me, especially when I go home and I see myself (as a player). I think about it: ‘Wow.’ I tried to be strong, clear my mind and just think about this year.”