DENVER – Starlin Castro welcomed Javier Baez to The Show by taking him out to dinner on Monday night at a Morton’s steakhouse in downtown Denver.
While the Cubs tried to downplay expectations for the 21-year-old Baez, Castro didn’t see the same learning curve. You’d view things differently after hitting .300 as a rookie and becoming a three-time All-Star before your 25th birthday.
“He has great talent,” Castro said. “I think he can be good right away.”
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Baez showed his freakish power with one huge swing in the 12th inning on Tuesday at Coors Field, launching a home run over the right-field fence and giving the Cubs a 6-5 victory over the Colorado Rockies in his big-league debut.
Castro’s pregame prediction followed his prescient comments on Sunday at Dodger Stadium, saying Baez would be able to handle it and needed to be here soon. Castro and Baez slapped five and hugged at second base after the final out late Tuesday night.
The Cubs will have options this winter, but there’s no shortstop controversy now. Maybe that’s how Theo Epstein’s front office eventually acquires frontline pitching, sorting out Castro, Baez and Double-A Tennessee shortstop Addison Russell. But Castro sounded energized by the presence of Baez.
“I’m really happy for him,” Castro said more than once. “It’s really important for him to be here, have fun, play every day and learn every day about how the game (works) in the big leagues.”
Baez said it only took a few games at Triple-A Iowa before second base started to feel normal and he stopped seeing the game backwards. The Cubs triggered Baez Watch by moving their elite prospect off shortstop coming out of the Pacific Coast League’s All-Star break. The move might not be permanent.
“Javy is somebody who’s athletic enough and gifted enough, and has good enough baseball instincts, and is in tune with the game enough, to play a number of positions,” Epstein said. “He’s played outstanding defense all year. It’s been overlooked because of the tough start he got off to offensively, and then the thunder he’s been bringing offensively of late.
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“But he’s played outstanding defense at shortstop and made a very smooth, very impressive transition to second. So he’s going to play a lot of second base. It wouldn’t be a shock to see him fill in at some other positions. Where he ends up as a full-time home for his career remains to be seen, but he gives us a lot of options.”
Castro won’t be an in-your-face leader, but he learned a lot by watching Alfonso Soriano work. The $136 million man took the rookie under his wing in 2010, allowing him to stay at his place in Chicago. Whether or not they become the double-play combination of the future, Castro can do the same for Baez now.
“It’s going to be fun for him – and fun for me – to play together,” Castro said. “It’s going to be a great team really soon.”