There was a time, no so long ago, that it was assumed Starlin Castro would end up at second base. Castro’s range has never been in question, but his mistakes are exaggerated at shortstop, where they might be hidden at second. And, with a supremely good fielder shortstop just a couple years away in Hak-Ju Lee, the plan was to eventually move Castro to second base.
But then the Cubs moved Lee in the Matt Garza deal, and you started to hear more and more that Castro’s future was at shortstop. The plans to move him to second base became more myth than historical fact, and we’re left to marvel at Castro’s playmaking ability, while ignoring his mistakes.
So why are we raising the issue of Castro at second base again? Well, Dave Kaplan makes some interesting points about the team’s current makeup, which puts the question of Castro at second squarely back on the table.
So then the question that must be asked is this. What position is he best suited to play that will maximize his skills and allow him the best chance for development both offensively and defensively? Castro has committed a large number of errors this season after a rookie campaign that saw him commit 27 errors, many on routine plays. He has tremendous range and a solid arm but he rushes himself on plays that should be routine for a major league shortstop. He has also shown questionable decision making which can be more of a problem from shortstop than it would be from second base where the throw is usually much shorter.
So if he was to make a position switch would it be better to do it early in his career or would it be better to wait until he develops more as a hitter and to see how his body develops? Should he outgrow shortstop he may need to make a move anyway so what is the best plan of attack for him?
Darwin Barney has spent the majority of his career at short and is considered a “plus” fielder at the position on the baseball scouting scale. In fact, Barney only played 14 games at second base during his days in the minors and most scouts that I have spoken with believe that he would be a solid major league shortstop. Why not then move Castro to second base where he would have less pressure on him defensively and move Barney to his more natural position of shortstop. Plus, Barney’s offensive skill set translates better at short than it does at second where most teams are looking to have more of a run producer.
It has probably crossed most of our minds that the Cubs were playing a plus shortstop defender at second base, and an average shortstop defender at shortstop. And if they’re both in the lineup every day anyway, why not flip them? I get it, and I think it’s a perfectly reasonable point.
That said, I don’t think it’s the right move.
Simply put, there is nothing in Barney’s career .708 minor league OPS that suggests he’s going to have a big league bat, at shortstop or anywhere else. There are exceptions, but guys tend not to “figure it out” for the first time at age 25 and at the big league level. Don’t get me wrong: I like Darwin Barney, and I think he’s a valuable player. I even think he’s the right guy to be starting right now. But I have a hard time seeing his long-term future as a starting shortstop on a championship-caliber team. I can, however, see Castro in that role.
The other reason to think twice about moving Castro to second is that, while there isn’t another tip-top shortstop prospect in the system, there might be one at second base: DJ LeMahieu. The organization is very high on LeMahieu (whom you might remember as “that kid who hit that walk-off homer in Spring Training”), and, although he’s yet to develop any power, he’s probably got a Major League bat. And, frankly, he has upside that Barney doesn’t.
So, it makes sense to me, for both of those reasons, to let things stand. Just as we expect Castro to get better with the bat (scary), we should expect that he’ll get better in the field. And, like with his bat, Castro’s defensive potential is extremely high.