Rizzo, Castro transitioning into leaders in Cubs clubhouse

Rizzo, Castro transitioning into leaders in Cubs clubhouse
August 14, 2014, 3:30 pm
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Tony Andracki

The future is now for the Chicago Cubs.

With the arrival of rookies like Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara and Kyle Hendricks, suddenly Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro are looking like the seasoned veterans in the Cubs clubhouse.

But at ages 25 and 24, respectively, can the pair of franchise cornerstones become the leaders the organization needs?

"I think they've [embraced leadership roles]," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "They're young, but those are our guys that are here. They've gone through the same kind of situations in terms of attention and expectations and I'm sure that they'll be able to connect and help each other out."

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Both Baez and Alcantara have credited Rizzo and Castro with helping to make them feel comfortable at the big-league level.

Alcantara says he has talked to both players about in-game situations and as he's adapted to his new position in center field, the 22-year-old rookie said he has sought a lot of counsel from Castro - a lifelong infielder - on where to play and how to deal with the conditions at Wrigley Field.

"It's helped a lot," Alcantara said. "They make you feel comfortable to come up and talk to you. If you want to talk to them, you can talk to them. Antyhing that you need, they're there."

Baez started his MLB career hitless in his first five at-bats, including three strikeouts. But he ended that game in Colorado with the winning hit - his first career homer. The 21-year-old said Rizzo and Castro talked to him before to prepare him for his big-league debut.

"They told me all the things that were gonna happen and it is like that," Baez said. "The first game, I struck out a few times and Rizzo said, 'Hey, don't worry about it. My debut, my first three at-bats, I struck out and I'm doing good now.'"

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Other veterans around the clubhouse have seen Castro take some of the young Latin players under his wing.

Castro may still only be 24, but he's already in his fifth big-league season and has 726 games under his belt.

"These guys don't know all the ups and downs of the game yet because they haven't experienced it," Luis Valbuena said. "Starlin has more of an idea of what to do now since he's been here for a while."

Castro and Rizzo have experienced the highs and lows of this game, suffering through down seasons in 2013, but rebounding with trips to the All-Star Game last month. They've also gotten acquainted with the Chicago market and the quirks of playing at Wrigley Field - like the wind or the high number of day games.

There has been some doubt among fans and media members if either player has the temperament or personality to be vocal and to lead by example. But as the faces of a franchise with so much turnover, it will have to be something of a trial by fire.

"They are learning everything on the fly right now," Renteria said. "...A lot of times in this game, it's a lot of trial and error. I think you have to be comfortable in your own skin.

"You don't want guys to take on the mantle of 'leader' and not be able to express themselves to their teammates. But they've been kinda taking on that approach, taking the mantle, so to speak, and trying to just communicate with each other and keep each other in check."

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With his relief appearance Thursday, Jacob Turner became the 107th different player used by the Cubs since Theo Epstein's front office took over prior to the 2012 season.

All those personnel changes means Castro is now the longest-tenured guy in the clubhouse. It also means veteran leaders like Ryan Dempster, Alfonso Soriano and David DeJesus have been shown the door as Epstein and Co. have tried to add to their stable of young prospects.

Eventually, the Cubs will have to keep some veteran players around to help take some of the pressure off Castro and Rizzo.

Renteria has pointed to guys like Justin Ruggiano, 32, and Ryan Sweeney, 29, as players on the current roster who have provided that presence, while 33-year-old catcher John Baker has helped ease some of the young pitchers along.

"I've always said, with us coming up, some of the young guys, you need the veteran presence on the team," Kyle Hendricks said. "A lot of great guys on this team to break you in, get you comfortable and when you're comfortable, you're going to be able to perform better."