Castro's third anniversary: Work in progress

CHICAGO -- Everyone is aware of Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro’s natural talents, but as he celebrates his third anniversary of being called up to the major leagues on Tuesday, manager Dale Sveum is far from calling him a finished product.

Sveum was asked if Castro is making progress this season.

“There’s progress since the day he got here,” the manager responded. “It’s still a work in progress as far as the mental things that go on at shortstop. If he wants to get to another level swinging the bat, there’s still a lot of improvement that can happen there. To get the OPS higher. It comes and goes with him.”

That’s hardly a ringing endorsement, but it’s only because Castro has the talent to be great. Yet the progress towards that has been slow. He’s hitting .277 this season with an on-base percentage of just .303. He has five walks in 142 plate appearances going into Tuesday’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals to go along with three home runs and 15 runs batted in.

“He has to take more advantage of the hittable fastballs,” Sveum said."It's timing. He has to take advantage of those fastballs."

Castro continues to just miss on being great at the plate. He’ll foul off a mistake pitch instead of taking it deep or he’ll fly out deep to the warning track in right -- showing his ability to go the other way -- yet just miss hitting the ball out. But he’ll still get his hits because his hand/eye coordination is that good. Of course, a few more walks wouldn't hurt, either. All the great ones take their free passes.

And in the field Sveum says he has seen improvement this season. Castro started out shaky but has played solid at short as of late, coming up with both the routine and spectacular plays.

“He’s learning how to cut ground on balls and the body control plays,” Sveum said. “Understanding who’s running. I think he’s improved on those things this year.”

But it’s been by trial and error with Castro. He booted a ball early in the season simply because he did not recognize the pitcher was running and he rushed himself. Those plays are happening less, as Sveum mentioned, but on his three-year anniversary, the learning needs to morph into producing.

Since May 7, 2010, when he made his fantastic debut with a home run in his first at-bat and earned six RBIs against the Cincinnati Reds, Castro has played in more games than any other player in the National League. He’s getting the reps in the field and the plate appearances he needs to get better -- and he’s already made two All-Star teams -- but true greatness still awaits him.

“There’s still quite a bit of improvement that can happen on both ends of it,” Sveum said.