CHICAGO – To understand how rare of a talent the Cubs have in Starlin Castro, consider this: Almost 40 years have passed since the organization had a shortstop appear in consecutive All-Star Games.
Castro holds the title as the youngest player in franchise history to be named to the All-Star team, set last year, and with his repeat honor this season the 22-year-old became the first Cubs shortstop to make back-to-back All-Star Games since Don Kessinger (1968-72).
If Castro has his way, the Midsummer Classic will be a routine destination for years to come.
“It’s impressive for me big time because it’s unbelievable,” Castro said. “As a little kid I saw a lot of baseball games, a lot of good payers that make All-Star Games and I say, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s unbelievable. I want to be one day in there.’ Now it’s my second one, but it’s not stopping here. I will keep working hard to make some more.”
For all his God-given ability, Castro commits his fair share of mental miscues. Some of them turned routine plays at shortstop into errors, but a renewed focus, aided by Cubs third base coach Pat Listach, has helped Castro cut down on the mistakes.
“After the first three weeks of the season, I don’t know if there’s been a better shortstop in baseball defensively,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “The throws, turning some tough double plays with that athleticism, some of the relay throws. He’s only had a few errors, and a couple of them have been on relay throws that happen just because of bad luck.”
Listach, one of only two coaches still on the staff from Castro’s rookie season, has been credited for Castro’s progress in the field. His 29 errors last season were the most by any player in the majors, and despite 13 this year Castro’s defense has noticeably improved.
“I think his work ethic is better,” Listach said. “Not that he didn’t like to work last year, but there were times when he would come out to take ground balls and flip balls behind his back and try to be a hot dog out there. I said, ‘No, this is the time when you come to work. This is the time you get better. It isn’t the time to play.’
“He’s gotten it and takes his approach more seriously than in the past.”
While Castro’s defensive prowess often has led to some “wow” plays, he’s no slouch in the batter’s box. Even though Castro has come under some scrutiny for his lack of walks, he already will surpass 500 career hits some point this season, about 2 1/2 years since his big league debut. Should he continue that pace – assuming he avoids major injuries – he will surpass 3,000 hits when he’s 35 years old.
For reference, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter became the fourth-youngest player to reach the milestone last season at 37 years, 13 days old. Ty Cobb was the youngest to reach 3,000 hits at 34 years, 244 days.
Of course that’s quite a lofty expectation for Castro, and it certainly is not a forgone conclusion that he’ll achieve that milestone. But Castro clearly possesses the talent for greatness. Whether he harnesses it, however, is up to him.
“[I’ve been much] better because I have a little more experience,” Castro said. “I know a little more how to pay the game at this level. I feel a little more experienced and a little better hitter right now. It was a little tough in the beginning because I don’t take my walks and that stuff.”
For all the success Castro has achieved at the major league level, he still is learning the game. Castro, who the Cubs signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2006, never advanced beyond Double-A while in the minor leagues playing 57 total games at that level before making his debut.
Still, plenty of people outside the organization want Castro moved to another position mainly because of his errors. The Cubs’ new front office personnel, led by president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer, have heard plenty of those complaints since taking over.
But, for now, they believe Castro is the Cubs’ shortstop for the foreseeable future.
“I think he will be an above-average defensive shortstop in time,” Hoyer said. “He’s made some errors, but he’s a 22-year-old shortstop. The range is there. … I think he’s going to be a shortstop for a long time. He has really proven a lot to us in a short time, and I think he’s only going to get better.”