Castro, Cubs hungry for more
So who is the Cubs' shortstop?
Starlin Castro, of course.
Who is the Cubs' shortstop of the future?
We'll ask again: Who is the Cubs' shortstop of the future?
OK, Javier Baez.
We forgetting anybody?
Yes, Junior Lake.
The Cubs have a nice problem on their hands: a lot of good young shortstops. Fortunately for them, it's a problem they don't have to address right now. But somewhere along the line, the day of reckoning is coming. When that day comes, it could be that Baez is at shortstop, Castro is at second base or third base and Lake is in the outfield.
For now, Castro is the present and the future after the Cubs signed him last summer to a contract through at least 2019.
Castro has been the focus of a lot of attention since he came up with a blaze in May 2010. Most of the attention has been good, especially when it relates to his offensive potential and production. Some has been not so good, especially when it relates to his "lapses" on the field.
But sometimes it's easy to forget that Castro won't be 23 until March 24.
As for the numbers, Castro became the first player in Cubs history last year to play at shortstop in all 162 games of a season. He put up a hitting line of .283/.323/.430 with career bests in triples (12), home runs (14) and RBI (78).
Although Castro's batting average fell from .291 before the all-star break to .275 after the break, he drew twice as many walks, 24 to 12, in the unofficial second half.
Now, Castro and the Cubs want more.
"It's one thing I challenged him to do: 'Your next step now in all this is to win a Gold Glove,'" manager Dale Sveum told reporters recently in Mesa, Ariz., where the Cubs are conducting spring training. "Obviously that takes a lot of hard work and being focused for 150 pitches a game and 162 games. He's got the ability to do it. The rest is up to him."
Castro has good motivation right next to him. His double-play partner, second baseman Darwin Barney, won the Gold Glove last year.
Castro seems up for the challenge.
"I want to be everything," he told reporters. "Power, steal more bases, hit for average ... It's good motivation for me. I know I can be like that guy ... I know that God give me that, that I can hit. That's why I work hard on my defense. Be like Barney."
Castro was just 20 when the Cubs brought him to the big leagues. Baez is that same age now, and Cubs scouting and farm boss Jason McLeod raised a few eyebrows recently when he said Baez might be more polished in the field at 20 than Castro was at that same stage.
Naturally, that set off a storm on social media, with fans asking, "So why not give Baez a shot to make the team out of spring training?"
That's not going to happen, as the Cubs have stated. There is no reason to rush Baez. The Cubs have Castro, a budding star, at shortstop. Second, Baez needs time to develop. At Class A Peoria last year, Baez had a line of .333/.383/.596 with 12 homers and 33 RBI. A hand injury, which he says is healed, limited him to .188/.244/.400 and 4 homers after a promotion to Class A Daytona. He's likely to start at Daytona again this year.
That said, there's little not to like about Baez, whom Baseball America says "has electric bat speed that elicits comparisons to the gold standard (Gary Sheffield), and he turns it loose every time."
As for Lake, he turns 23 a few days after Castro does. At Class AA Tennessee last year, Lake had a line of .279/.341/.432 with 10 homers. He also struck out 105 times in 448 plate appearances.
Baseball Prospectus wonders "if Lake can stick at shortstop." He might not have to as things figure to sort themselves out with the Cubs' three shortstops over the next couple of years.
It should be fun to watch.
Bruce Miles ranks NL shortstops1. Ian Desmond, Nationals, 3.2 WAR
2. Starlin Castro, CUBS, 3.4
3. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies, 0.3
4. Jimmy Rollins, Phillies, 2.3
5. Andrelton Simmons, Braves, 2.8