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If you follow the Chicago Cubs’ farm system at all, that shortstop Starlin Castro is getting hyped will be no surprise. All he’s done is play excellent defense at the most difficult defensive position, and hit very well at high A Daytona, as well as AA Tennessee – all while playing competition, on average, three years older than he is. Thus, the hype naturally follows.

Never mind that he’s only 19 years old. The shortstop has been on the fast track in the Cubs’ Minor League organization since he first signed in October 2006. He played rookie ball in 2008, then jumped to high Class A this season, then Double-A, and now is competing in the Arizona Fall League. He’s the youngest player in the AFL, but after one week of play, he’s keeping pace with the big boys, and through Sunday, was hitting .500 (7-for-14). He went 3-for-5 in the AFL opener.

“He’s one of those special players in baseball,” said Franklin Font, the Cubs’ Minor League infield coordinator.

Castro batted .311 in the Rookie League in 2008, and Font was among those who fought for the young infielder to begin the ’09 season at high Class A Daytona, not the low Class A in Boise or Peoria. The Cubs would’ve been happy if Castro hit .250, .260. He batted .302, good for third in the Florida State League, even though he didn’t finish the season there.

In July, Castro played for the World Team in the All-Star Futures Game, and didn’t start but reached on an infield single, advanced on a wild pitch, and eventually scored the tying run. He was promoted to Double-A Tennessee in early August, where he hit .288 in 31 games. For the year, he batted .299 with 23 doubles, six triples, three homers, 28 stolen bases and 49 RBIs.

“I haven’t had a player go through the system who has done what he’s done,” said Cubs player development director Oneri Fleita. “I think we would’ve been happy if he hit .250 in Daytona. He’s certainly surpassed any expectations we’ve had. To finish at Double-A and get a chance to play in the [Southern League] playoffs — and he contributed to them winning.

“It seems like it takes some guys a year before we see any gains. We’re seeing gains in Castro weekly, monthly, if not daily. Who knows?” cubs.com.

The whole article is an excellent read, and is highly recommended.

It will be interesting to see what the Cubs do with Castro next year. Darwin Barney would seem to have AAA Iowa’s shortstop post locked up until he makes the big club (likely as a utility player, at most), so Castro is likely to begin the season back at AA Tennessee. From there, many Cubs insiders expect that Castro will get a cup of tea in the Majors by mid-season – when he’s just 20.

Obviously I hope he blows up, but if he does, I dread one thing: the overflow of hacky, “Starlin is a Star” headlines.

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