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Thursday, February 13, 2014
Countdown to Camp: Who needs big year?

By Jesse Rogers

Cubs/Phillies
Starlin Castro had career lows in batting average, on-base percentage and RBIs in 2013.
MESA, Ariz. -- There is little doubt the Chicago Cubs need shortstop Starlin Castro to have a big year -- more so than anyone else on the roster.

And it has nothing to do with wins and losses.

If Castro can return to All-Star form, it settles a lot of issues and puts the Cubs in a good position moving forward. Especially in the infield.

Castro’s natural talent speaks for itself. In 2011, when he was 21, he had 207 hits. That doesn’t happen by accident. But his batting average has slid the past two years, from .307 that year to .283 in 2012 to .245 last season.

The Cubs are hoping a managerial change gets Castro back to being Castro. He’s a free swinger, but one who made good contact in achieving back-to-back All-Star appearances his first two full years in the league.

The Cubs have a slew of infield prospects getting close to making it to the major leagues. None is closer than 2011 first-round pick Javier Baez. He plays shortstop as well. If Castro struggles again, it leaves the Cubs in a position of deciding what exactly to do in the middle of the infield.

A solid Castro opens the door for a position change for Baez and the potential for a deadly infield. Otherwise, the Cubs would be starting over at shortstop. It’s simply the last thing anyone wants to see.

If Baez takes over there, the Cubs would be hard-pressed to move Castro to somewhere else on the diamond. It would mean he's struggling and the potential to lose him for good would be high. His trade value would be lower than ever and the Cubs will have simply wasted years developing him. Plus, the weight of the world then falls on Baez, who is still developing his own game. This is all a worst case scenario that's not likely to happen.

A big year out of Castro restores his confidence and the confidence from the Cubs and the fan base. It sets up the infield with cornerstones at shortstop and first base as the Cubs envisioned heading into last season. And it opens the door for heavy competition at third and second base.

First, it's about Castro but then it's about the rest of the team. Either way, he needs a big year.