Starlin Castro hits 500 milestone

CHICAGO -- The 23-year-old Starlin Castro took the field Sunday for his 500th career game with the Chicago Cubs, making him a kid and a veteran all at the same time.

The shortstop, who has loads of talent but is prone to the occasional mental lapse, still has a huge upside with expectation that he still needs to do more to maximize his potential. That potential tends to overshadow what he already has done.

Castro entered his 500th game with 589 hits, seventh-most among players during their first 500 games with the Cubs. He is on track for 3,000 hits at that pace, which offers its own niche in baseball history, and he would do it well before the age of 40.

Yet the talk always seems to be about what more Castro can give. It’s what tends to happen to players who have set the bar so high with flashes of brilliance and whose talent suggests they can keep on giving.

“I think the offensive part, the slugging percentage, the OPS -- that's what needs to get more on a consistent basis: driving the baseball, obviously having consistent games of hitting the ball hard consistently with that hand-eye coordination,” manager Dale Sveum said. “More importantly, it's the OPS that we've got to get more on a consistent basis.”

Part of Sveum’s alarm when it comes to Castro stems from the fact that the All-Star will routinely swing at pitches out of the strike zone while not taking advantage of pitches he can drive.

In that regard, Castro’s identity crisis is self-inflicted. Not really a middle-of-the-order hitter and not an ideal top-of-the-order type, Castro still doesn’t have a set home even though he has spent 49 games in the No. 2 spot this year.

He can’t seem to sustain slugging percentage or on-base percentage to carve out a permanent hitting home.

All those hits, though, and all that steady play on defense -- if not spectacular at times -- shows that he is doing plenty of things right. But will he ever do enough with the bat to get that permanent lineup spot? And what spot would that be?

“It all depends on the personnel you have in your lineup,” Sveum said. “If you have a prolific lineup, like for instance some American League teams where you're strong all the way through a lineup for power, slugging percentage and all that, obviously it's a perfect world. [In that scenario] he'd probably be perfectly suited to hit further down in the lineup until the OPS and all that stuff improves.”

Such is Castro’s plight. He could be the guy who gets 3,000 hits whose spot in the order was dictated by others. Maybe part of it is that he doesn’t identify with a spot and another part is a nod to his versatility that he can hit wherever he’s needed.

The conclusion seems to be that after 500 games even more is expected in the next 500. It could go either way, but maybe Castro is willing to take it as a compliment.