Chicago Cubs: Starlin Castro
Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein doesn't see a dilemma in potentially having to find a way to have two-time All-Star Starlin Castro on the field at the same time with shortstop Javier Baez, who is ranked as the 31st-best prospect in baseball by ESPN's Keith Law.
"That's the problem you want to have. Give me nine shortstops. If you give me nine shortstops we'll field a team," Epstein said Tuesday on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN Chicago 1000. "You look throughout baseball history, the great players are the ones who come up in the middle of the field and then move to a corner or move further along on the defensive spectrum. Gary Sheffield came up as a shortstop. He stayed there for awhile and then he went to third base and then left field and right field. That's typical.
"We're going to draft and find as many middle of the field potential impact players as we can and nine times out of 10 it naturally sorts itself out."
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum held his only press conference during the winter meetings Tuesday. While a throng of Japanese reporters waited for any news (there wasn't any) on the imminent signing of Kyuji Fujikawa, Sveum addressed everything from Brett Jackson's batting stance to the Cubs competing next year. Here are some highlights:
"But basically what I want to see out of him is just keep progressing mentally and understand the process of becoming a winning player and not a hit seeker, becoming more of a winning hitter situation, drive runs in, understanding the situations. Defensively, like I said, I think he came a long way but still has to even concentrate more. I think we got him probably, just throwing a number out there, probably really focused 80 to 85 percent of the time. We've got to get that to that 95 percent. I don't think anybody ever really focuses 100 percent."
On Anthony Rizzo: "I mean, having that half a year under his belt and his leadership, he just took off in a lot of things and started understanding a lot of things. Even though he was hot when he first got there and then cooled off and got hot again, I think he learned a lot why that little three-week period when he really got cold, why he started doing that. He got a little -- trying to hit home runs and do all those kind of things too much, and then he got right back to what he does best and finished up nice."
Hopeful for a better record: "You know, when you lose 100 games, you'd better go into it with a little more optimism. But yeah, last year going into the season, we knew we were going to have to have a tough time scoring runs, and we ended up having a tough time scoring runs."
On Jackson at the plate: "He made huge, huge strides just in his batting practice, completely overhauled a swing, changed a lot of things. Using his hands much, much more, staying behind the ball, a lot of things that are going to definitely help him going into the season. Nobody can sit here and predict anything, but I think he's got a good base to work with going the rest of the winter and spring training ... ."
On Darwin Barney at the plate: "I think his on-base percentage is going to gradually get better just with experience. We all know the glove he has and the Gold Glove, but we have to get that OPS up, and he realizes that, and he's capable of doing it with both."
On All-Star Bryan LaHair leaving to play in Japan: "Well, I think he had obviously a nice first half for us, and it was kind of a unique situation that doesn't happen every year that a guy makes the All-Star team and then basically almost didn't play very much the second half of the season, especially after Anthony Rizzo got there. Yeah, it wasn't going to be a super good fit in the outfield because of the speed factor, and we want to be more athletic in the outfield ... I'm glad he's going over there, get some money and play and hopefully has a nice career."
On understanding the Cubs phenomenon more: "Well, I mean, going there as a visitor and all those things, you know the loyalty. But then when you live it, you understand it. The importance of wearing that 'C' on your shirt has got to get to a level. That's the culture of understanding of free agents, the players we have, the minor leaguers understand it's a huge, huge thing to be able to wear that jersey. So that's where we're changing the culture is to get to understand when you put on the Yankees pinstripe, it's different than some things. And when you put on a Cubs uniform, you want that to be different."
On 2011 first-round pick Javier Baez in the fall league this year: "You know, the bat speed is -- Gary Sheffield type bat speed. Incredible bat speed. Didn't get to see any results, but the bat speed was pretty good. I didn't go to his best games. But he had a heck of a minor league season, the combination of the home runs and everything. He was a bigger kid than I thought when I saw him in person. I saw him in big league camp, I didn't really -- I saw him without a shirt on one day, and I was like, wow, he's a pretty big kid. But a lot of tremendous, tremendous tools at that age. That kind of bat speed just doesn't come around at 19 years old."
On Fujikawa: "Yeah, I've seen video and I've seen all the numbers and everything like that. It's one of those guys that can pitch at the back end of our bullpen, no doubt about it."
On competing this year: "You look at the Oakland A's last year, I think the Orioles winning all those extra-inning games, the one-run ballgames, the walk-off home runs, we talk about all the time you have to have slugging percentage, you have to have the ability to hit fastballs so you can win those close games. But my point is you have to have your core guys, your eight guys that are going to go out there every day as an offense, and they have to have kind of their career years. You see most teams when they might be not on paper like the Yankees or the good Red Sox teams or guys end up having out-of-nowhere guys have their career years, and all of a sudden you win a lot more ballgames. Don't get me wrong, you still have to pitch, so that's the bottom line."
Jesse Rogers covers the Chicago Cubs for ESPN 1000 and ESPNChicago.com.
"He has gotten better," Barney said. "The work that we did has made him a better shortstop, and he knows that.”
While Barney successfully switched positions last season after playing most of his minor league career at shortstop, Castro has continued to have lapses at shortstop, making 27 errors in 2012.
"As happy as he is about the work he has done, we have spoken about who he wants to be in the future," Barney said "One of the best things he did say to me that made me feel really good is he said, 'Hey man, you're the best defensive player I have ever seen and I want to be like you.' Coming from a guy who has every tool in the bag means a lot. We are good friends and I hope our relationship keeps getting better and better."
The soon-to-be 27-year-old second baseman will make a little above the major league minimum ($500,000) in 2013. At 22, Castro will begin a seven-year, $60 million contract he signed last summer next season. Even though the salaries are light years from being equal, the respect and admiration that the tandem have for each other seems to be genuine.
"We decided early on in spring training that we were going to work hard together to be the best that we can up the middle," Barney said. "Our goal is to be the best around, and that is what we are working towards. In the future, we will have to get better together and hopefully that is what we can do.
The Cubs' combination turned 97 twin killings last season, up 17 from their first year together in 2011.
CHICAGO -- Starlin Castro got off to a hot start in 2012, got in a little over his head for a stretch and then got paid, officially cementing himself as one of the players the Chicago Cubs are committed to building around.
The Cubs shortstop showed the human element involved with even the most talented of players. Nobody has questioned the raw ability of Castro, especially when it comes to what he is able to do at the plate. But the 22-year-old showed that he is not immune to the mental challenges that come with playing the game.
He was far from the only one to lose track of the situation or make poor decisions on the field this year, but the Cubs know that it is one of the few weaknesses of his game and is an easier fix than turning somebody into a high-level hitter or fielder.
There were other focus issues this season, though, that weren’t entirely Castro’s fault. As the Cubs engaged Castro’s agent in contract-extension talks, Castro’s play suffered, especially when it came to his offense.
Castro was still batting .300 in June when contract negotiations reportedly began to take place, but by Aug. 7 his average dipped to .272. He entered the season as a career .304 hitter in the major leagues after hitting .310 in the minor leagues.
CHICAGO -- The new Chicago Cubs front office might be in the midst of a house cleaning, but they quickly identified an asset worth keeping.
It wasn’t long into the season when president of baseball operations Theo Epstein went on the record saying that while Starlin Castro’s baseball acumen was well known, watching it on an everyday basis was a sight to behold.
It was not to say Castro was the perfect player then, nor is he now, but he is plenty good to build a ballclub around as his new seven-year, $60 million extension finalized Tuesday shows.
“Shortstop's a really hard position to fill in today's game especially someone that can provide with offense,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “He proved it to us early on. He worked very hard on his defense. There's no question in my mind that he can play shortstop in the big leagues on a championship team.”
The seven-year, $60 million extension, first reported by ESPN Deportes, will become official once it's drafted and the contract language is ironed out, sources told ESPNChicago.com's Doug Padilla.
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One game playoff who would you want to start, Peavy or Sale?
Bruce Levine (1:07 PM)
Probably won't have that type of choice if it goes down to the end and you have to get a wild card spot, you may have already had to pitch them to get in. I don't mean to scare you but it could be Floyd or Humber to pitch that game. Remember back in 1998 it ended up being Steve Trachsel for the Cubs against Mark Gardner of the Giants, neither one being the ace of the staff. But to answer your question, I'll take Sale.
David (Va Beach)
Is Castro safe? Or do you expect plenty of trade rumors over the offseason? I'm asking as someone wanting him here longterm.
Obviously there are holes in his game. But the upside is much too great, I think, to consider trading him. The only reason Epstein and Hoyer would consider it is if they think he's not going to get better. And as brilliant of baseball men as they are, I doubt they can make an educated guess as to what his eventual upside is at this point.
Read the entire chat here.
Currently serving in the Marlins organization as a special assistant to the president, Dawson has been keeping an eye on the Cubs as they try to turn things around under president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.
“I think they’re doing it the right way,” Dawson said on the “Waddle and Silvy” show on ESPN 1000 on Monday. “You give Theo the benefit of the doubt now. You know, we expect you to go in a certain direction, you have the keys, and however you’re going to do it, whatever time it takes, we expect certain things. And this is gonna play out, I think, for the better.”
Although the Cubs are still languishing in the NL Central cellar, they put two young players on the National League All-Star roster -- Starlin Castro and Bryan LaHair. Dawson believes Castro has the skills to build a team around.
“I like what I’ve seen from Castro,” Dawson told the radio show. “I saw him when he first came up and I followed him and I see what he continues to do at still a very young age. He is one of the individuals that’s going to be the nucleus of your ballclub. [If] he continues to make his work ethic impeccable, be better than what he is, then you’re going to get some great things from him.”
Along with Castro’s early success, the progress of young starters Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood and the recent call-up of top prospect Anthony Rizzo indicate the Cubs have hope for better days ahead. The Cubs have gone 5-1 since Rizzo joined the team on Tuesday.
“This organization -- they got some young talent,” Dawson said. “I think once you get rid of all of the old salaries, the big money that has really come back to bite them you can move in that direction. I’m still a Cubs fan. This is a second home for me. I still follow the organization ... I’m looking forward to that day.”
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MILWAUKEE -- A quick look at the Chicago Cubs' 10-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday night at Miller Park.
How it happened: Ryan Dempster was owed a great deal by the baseball gods. The 35-year-old veteran was through five perfect innings before Cody Ransom led off the sixth inning with a single to center and the Cubs finally scored some early runs for their starter. Alfonso Soriano hit a three-run home run off of Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo in the first inning. The Cubs continued to add on runs, scoring in the fourth, fifth, eighth and ninth innings. Bryan La Hair’s solo home run was his first since May 15.
What it means: The Cubs broke their longest road losing streak in franchise history (11 games, tied with the 1954 club.) Dempster ends his own personal losing streak going back to Aug. 16, 2011. He had not won a game in his previous 18 starts (0-9 with 9 no decisions). The Cubs are on pace for 108 losses after a third of the season.
Outside the box: Manager Dale Sveum met with shortstop Starlin Castro before Tuesday’s game and reassured the 22-year-old player that he was important to the team’s success and that he needed to pick up his play and take a leadership role on the field. The meeting came a day after Castro forgot how many outs there were during a double-play situation in San Francisco. Castro responded with three hits and plenty of attitude on defense despite a bad running play in the eighth inning.
Up next: LHP Paul Maholm (4- 4, 4.82) faces the Brewers'Zack Greinke (6-2, 3.46) on Wednesday at 7:10 p.m.
In fact, according to Baseball Info Solutions, Castro has had the most defensive misplays and errors of any middle infielder since he broke into the big leagues on May 7, 2010.
BIS puts such mistakes into a category entitled: Losing the double-play as the pivot man, which it defines as: Fielder juggles, drops or mishandles a throw from another fielder, or makes the play in an exceptionally slow manner, resulting in one out being recorded on a play which quick and smooth handling might have resulted in a double play.
According to ESPN Stats & Info: It's the eighth time Castro has done that in his MLB career. No other shortstop has more than five since Castro’s debut.
After 16 games there does appear to be more balance on offense and the starting pitching is certainly more fortified in the case of injury.
In the 2011 season the Cubs were the worst defensive team in baseball, making a major league-high 134 errors, not to mention the botched relay throws and poor positioning around the middle infield, which featured two inexperienced players in Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney. Castro (29) and Geovany Soto (13) had the most errors at their positions in the league last year.
On Sunday Soto made throwing errors on back-to-back plays, begging the question of whether this team has improved in this crucial area.
“We are taking pride in [the hopes] we are a lot better defensively,” Soto said. “We are working our tails off trying to improve in the areas we need to improve in. So I think we have improved on defense.”
One spot worth watching for improvement over the season is first base. Since 2004 the Cubs have had a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman, starting with Derrek Lee and ending with one great year of fielding by Carlos Pena. Bryan LaHair will give you a great effort, but until Anthony Rizzo is ready to be moved up to the parent club, balls in the dirt may not be scooped up like they have in the past.
Nothing says bad baseball to a fan base like a shoddy group of defenders, although improvement at third base and in right field are a nice addition to this year’s club. Ian Stewart and David DeJesus are top-notch defenders.
The jury is still out on the fielders’ chances of helping the pitching staff with better defense with only 10 percent of the season having been played.
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Sveum has plenty of options for Castro, including the leadoff spot, but doesn't seem fixated on just one role for his young hitter.
“It's an intriguing question, and a lot of lineups are going to be out by the way guys perform in spring training because right now going in we don't have that bona fide leadoff, that bona fide third, fourth, fifth hitter, so we've got some guys that have had some success but not super at the big-league level,” Sveum said.
Castro has spent most of the time in his young career batting out of the leadoff spot and the No. 2 spot. In 339 plate-appearances as a leadoff hitter he is batting .323 with a .366 on-base percentage. He has 499 plate appearances in the second spot batting .318 with a .349 on-base mark.
Last season, though, he started his move toward the heart of the order. He actually had more plate appearances in the No. 3 hole (187) than the No. 2 spot (184). He started 42 games at each spot.
“You can make numbers look any way you want but there's always that decision to make with great hitters like that,” Sveum said. “When do we put him in that three or four or five spot? It comes a time where you can't just sit there all the time like he's comfortable in the two spot and leave him there when we need him in other spots.”