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Castro focused in on improving defense

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs are convinced Starlin Castro can hit. They showed that much when they signed their All-Star shortstop to a seven-year, $60 million contract last summer.

The big question for the 23-year-old Castro to answer as he enters his fourth season in the major leagues is whether he can cut down on his errors and headline-making mental lapses in the field.

“I like the way he’s been going about his business defensively,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “It’s one thing I challenged him to do: ‘Your next step now in all this is to win a Gold Glove.’ Obviously, that takes a lot of focus and hard work and being focused for 150 pitches a game and 162 games. He’s got the ability to do it. The rest is up to him.”

Castro, who has led the National League in errors each of the past two seasons, said that is his major goal this season – to match the defensive achievement of teammate Darwin Barney, who won a Gold Glove at second base last year.

Castro said he focused “much time” over the winter on his fielding.

“When I went (home to) the Dominican (Republic), I worked hard every day on my defense, because I want to be better. I want to be like Barney and win a Gold Glove. And it’s going to be fun to win Gold Gloves at shortstop, second base and first base – because (Anthony) Rizzo is very good, too,” he said.

That’s not only Castro’s view. That’s a vision the defensive-minded coaching staff has in mind for the infield.

After Rizzo showed exceptional skills around the bag at first in his half-season debut for the Cubs last season, it might be up to Castro to make that threesome as formidable as he thinks it can be.

“I know I can be like those guys,” Castro said.

Last June in San Francisco, Castro forgot the number of outs on a possible double-play ball with the bases loaded and began jogging off the field after getting only the first out on the play.

“That was obviously a noticeable one,” Sveum said, even as he defended Castro for general improvement in that area throughout last season.

Indeed, there were no repeats last season of the 2011 incident at Wrigley Field, when Castro was caught on camera daydreaming, with his back to the plate, spitting seeds, as the pitcher delivered the ball.

“I will eliminate those, eliminate everything,” Castro said. “This year it’s gonna be where those things don’t happen that happened those couple of years ago. Each game, I’ll concentrate, and [stick to] my game plan. It’s going to be perfect.”

The Cubs don’t need perfection. They say they’ll settle for the improvement they saw last season.

“I wasn’t here before [2012]. All I know is what other people have told me,” Sveum said, “that he improved tremendously throughout the season. And I saw it. So hopefully, he just keeps improving. That’s all we’re asking out of a guy like him, that he just keeps growing. But the rest of it now is pretty much up to him, with the experience he already has in the big leagues.”

If the seven-year deal wasn’t enough to convince people of the Cubs’ faith in their shortstop as a long-term part of their rebuilding plans, team president Theo Epstein gave Castro a strong vote of defensive confidence as spring training opened this year.

“I thought he made significant strides defensively last year and still has more room for improvement in that area,” Epstein said. “Certainly, he has all the physical tools to play shortstop. He’s always going to be able to make plays at the extremities of his range. He’s very athletic. He’s got a strong arm. As we sat here last year, it was a bit of an open question in the organization whether he could stay at shortstop long term. And I think now we all feel he definitely can, and be a real good one.”

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