Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Recently, the Cubs have been projected to be the worst team in this upcoming season. Whether this comes to fruition or not will highly depend on the play of young shortstop Starlin Castro.
2014 Projected starting shortstop: Starlin Castro
2013 Season in Review: Entering the 2013 season there was no question that Starlin Castro was a main piece in the rebuilding process, and that he would be a player the Cubs could build around. However, after a lackluster 2013 campaign, doubt is starting to sink in for many Cubs fans, myself included.
Negatives: Starlin Castro experienced something last season that he never had gone through before, a slump. Throughout his entire baseball career he had dominated pitchers everywhere he played, including his first three seasons for the Cubs. However, last year Castro struggled from the plate, and never found a way to get his hitting back on track. His batting numbers were down in almost every category dropping from a .307 average in 2011 to a .245 average last year. It was clear that Castro couldn’t shake his slump primarily because he had never had one before. What made matters worse was that Castro’s struggled in the field as well. He committed 22 errors (which actually was a career low), but 22 errors is extremely high for someone who is supposed to be the center of the defense. Most people criticized Castro’s fielding last year due to what seemed to be a lack of focus. There were several plays in which he was clearly out of position, and he was even caught not paying attention to several plays last year.
Positive: The biggest positive from the 2013 season, is that the 2013 campaign is over. Starlin gets a fresh start this year, and it was evident that he needs one. Similar to staring first baseman Anthony Rizzo, it may be good for Castro to experience what it feels like to be struggling from the plate at a young age, so when he goes through slumps later in his career he knows how to get out of them. Last year he started 159 of the 162 games, so it was clear that Castro could be depended on to be ready to play everyday. In order to make 2013 somewhat successful for Castro, he should use last year as a learning experience and figure out what it takes to play at a high level on an everyday basis.
2014 Projections: Nearly every Cub fan will be keeping an eye on Castro’s performance this season. He is now entering year two of his seven year contract, and if his performance does not improve, many will consider his days in a Cubs uniform numbered. However, this year the Cubs enter with a new manager, Rick Renteria, which is exactly what Castro may need to get his game back on track. Last season it was evident that he and former manager Dale Svuem did not see eye to eye, so a new manager may be a breath of fresh air. I do not think that his fielding will improve dramatically primarily because he has never been known for his defense, fortunately for him though, the Cubs don’t expect him to be a Gold Glove defender. However, I do feel as though Castro will improve his batting number this year. The two most important categories that Starlin needs to improve on are his on base percentage, and his strike out numbers. If he can cut down on his strike outs as well as proving that he can be a consistent threat to get on base, he will show the Cubs front office that he can be the leader of the team like they always envisioned him being.
Prospect Watch: Besides Castro’s poor play in 2013, another reason that fans are starting to question his future with the Cubs are the Cubs shortstop prospects in their minor league system. The main shortstop the Cubs have is Javier Baez, who is widely considered to be their best prospect. Baez crushed pitchers last season hitting 37 home runs and had 111 runs batted in. Baez seems to be the Cubs most complete player in the minor leagues and he will most likely start this season with AAA Iowa. He is still extremely young (21 years old), but he might reach the majors by years end. Several rumors have speculated that the Cubs would move Baez to second base so that Castro and Baez could play together, but if Castro’s struggles continue Baez might be the shortstop of the future.
Arismendy Alcantara is another name that has created a lot of buzz around the Cubs this past year. He came to the Cubs as a shortstop, but last year he played second base at AA Tennessee, and many believe that the Cubs will keep him at second base for the rest of his career.
Once thought of as the shortstop that would solve the Cubs problems now may be one of their biggest problems. Since Castro is still young, if he performs poorly once again this year he most likely will still be a member of the Cubs for the 2015 season. However, Starlin is beginning to feel the pressure because with each day that he struggles, Javier Baez becomes one step closer to being the next shortstop for the Cubs.