MESA, Ariz. — Starlin Castro is out to prove that he’s still an All-Star shortstop. The Cubs need him to be that ultra-confident .300 hitter who used to make it look easy.
“I don’t want to mention last year, because it’s over,” Castro said Wednesday. “I’m going to start with my mind clean and be ready for this year.”
Castro looked refreshed, leaning back at his locker with his thumbs resting on his belt loops. His English has again improved dramatically, and he spoke for about 15 minutes with waves of reporters, addressing his concentration levels, his advice to Javier Baez and his status as an elder statesman in this new Cubs Park clubhouse.
[MORE: Financial issues dominating talk around Cubs]
“My responsibility is to play hard,” Castro said, “and try to have the other guys behind me look at me and say: ‘I want to be this guy because he’s working hard.’ I don’t want to be (a) leader because there’s 25 guys on the team – not only one.”
Castro is used to getting singled out, but he believes he will connect with Rick Renteria, the new bilingual manager hired to coach up The Core and smooth the transition for the organization’s talented Latin players.
“He’s going to be good for me,” Castro said. “He always told me about positive things, never negative things or something like that. Just something to help me up.”
Castro said he didn’t think Dale Sveum was too hard on him but didn’t want to get into the issues that got the manager fired: “I have nothing to say about it.”
Alfonso Soriano was that lead-by-example guy for Castro, who said the $136 million man delivered a strong message this offseason: “You have pressure this year. You have to come into spring training and look good. Be ready because everybody’s looking at you after a tough year. Try to (take over) now.”
[MORE: Ricketts looks to close Wrigley deal]
Strength and conditioning coordinator Tim Buss visited Castro’s home in the Dominican Republic for an extended stay this offseason. Castro then went to train at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., for a few more weeks, reporting to camp with a reshaped body and a clear head.
Spring training is always about renewal and something-to-prove storylines. But after hearing the organization’s mixed messages and trying to change who he was as a hitter – and batting .245 with a .631 OPS in the first season of a seven-year, $60 million contract – the old Castro is making a comeback.
“I have a lot of motivation,” Castro said. “The people up top told me: Don’t try to listen to too many things. (Just) try to be me.”