You might be thinking that it’s easy for me to say that Starlin Castro is not ready for the major leagues, considering he just came off of a three-error game.
But, physical errors are not what I am talking about. Physical errors are inevitable and given Castro’s reputation as a good defender, they are not a large cause for concern. However, it’s the mental errors which are concerning.
After having a monster debut, in which he drove in a record six runs, Castro really hasn’t done much to help the team. Whether or not Castro has the talent to be at the major league level is debatable, but he certainly lacks the awareness necessary to play an especially important position like shortstop.
The first signs came in Saturday’s 14-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. Though the scoreline might indicate a blowout, the game was actually a lot closer than it may appear. The Reds scored 5 times in the seventh inning and 6 times in the eighth inning to break the game open, but the two teams were separated by no more than three runs for most of the game. In fact, it was Castro’s defense that allowed the Reds to score their third run.
With the Reds already ahead 2-0 in the bottom of the third inning, Brandon Phillips led off the inning with an infield hit to Castro. Then with Votto at the plate, Phillips attempted a steal of second base. Votto struck out to record the first out of the inning and the throw to second base beat Phillips by plenty. All Castro had to do was catch the ball and apply the tag to complete the double play. Instead, Castro got impatient, stepped up two paces to shorten catcher Geovany Soto’s throw to second base, and therefore was unable to scramble back to the bag before Phillips slid around the tag. Later in the inning, Jonny Gomes singled to left to drive home Phillips and give the Reds a three-run advantage.
That was actually Castro’s second defensive blunder in the game.
With a runner on first base and lefty Jay Bruce at the plate in the first inning, the Cubs employed the drastic lefty shift. This put second baseman Ryan Theriot deep in the hole on the right side, Castro directly behind the bag at second, and third baseman Aramis Ramirez deep in the hole on the left side. When Bruce hit a sharp ground ball a few feet to Ramirez’s left, Castro immediately broke for the ball. Ramirez made a diving stop and turned to second base to look for the flip that would end the inning. The only problem was that Castro had run himself out of the play and Theriot was unable to get to second base in time, given his starting position. This forced Ramirez into attempting an awkward throw to first base, which Bruce was able to beat. But this blunder tends to get unnoticed because Tom Gorzelanny and the Cubs were able to escape the inning without any further damage.
In the second inning of Sunday’s 5-3 loss to the Reds, Castro displayed that he really doesn’t pay attention to the game as much as most players at this level do. When the speedy Drew Stubbs hit a groundball to Castro, the rookie shortstop fielded the ball, patted the glove twice and made the throw over to first base just ahead of Stubbs. Thankfully, Castro’s rocket arm was able to make up for his lackadaisical effort.
In Monday’s 4-2 loss to the Florida Marlins, Castro made two more gaffes. With Cody Ross on second base in the seventh inning, pinch hitter Cameron Maybin hit a groundball into the hole on the left side. Castro made a pretty decent play by ranging to his right and knocked the ball down to keep Ross from scoring. But while Castro was falling down on the outfield grass in short left field, he attempted to throw out Maybin at first base. The throw — which had no chance to get Maybin — bounced to Derrek Lee and the first baseman had to make an acrobatic stop to keep Ross at third and Maybin at first.
In the eighth inning, Castro figured that he would attempt to make up for his over aggressiveness in the previous inning by not hustling when Hanley Ramirez hit a groundball to short. Castro kicked it for the third defensive error of the game, but was in no hurry to chase after the ball that landed fifteen feet behind him. As Castro jogged towards the ball with his head down, he was completely oblivious to the fact that the speedy Ramirez was attempting to take the extra base. By the time the crowd reacted, Castro looked up to notice that Ramirez was already sliding into second base.
The initial decision to call up Castro was a publicity stunt by the Cubs to get some attention off of the sweep to the Pittsburgh Pirates. After all, Cubs’ general manager Jim Hendry had publicly stated that we should not expect to see Castro anytime soon just one week prior. It seemed to work well as Castro kick started the offense and the Cubs stormed out of the gates to take the opener from Cincinnati. But since that game, Castro is 2-for-9 at the plate, has committed 4 physical errors and at least 5 mental errors, and the Cubs are 0-3.
The Cubs need to figure out which direction they are going to go with this team. Whether the decision is to make a serious run at becoming contenders this year or focus on molding the team for the future, I would be fine. But the Cubs can not have their cake and eat it too. If the team wants to compete this year, it must not continually let Castro learn lessons the hard way at the major league level. To say that the team is better with Castro playing short is a major shot at Mike Fontenot.
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Written by Eddie Kim