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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.

  • TWC

    Man, two off days in a week really gets the idle speculation engines pumping.

    How ’bout this: I think the Cubs should look into sending Marmol back to being a catcher, and making Koyie Hill the closer. At least that way he’ll never have to hit. After all, “[w]hat position is he best suited to play that will maximize his skills and allow him the best chance for development both offensively and defensively?”

    • Kenny L.

      I’m not sure Koyie Hill becoming a closer is really the same kind of speculation as Castro moving to second especially given that Castro to second has been discussed for over a year.

      • TWC

        Yeah, I was kidding of course.

        I’m much too lazy to look it up, but was Castro’s fielding in the minors just as questionable? He seems to have such great range and arm strength that it’s be a shame to lose much of that advantage but slotting him at 2B.

        • Jeff

          Castro has been an error machine since he left rookie ball. With his arm, range, and work ethic, he could be a gold glover in the future. Hopefully his problems are just mental and will go away with time/experience.

  • Jeff

    I don’t think you move him to second for Darwin Barney to play shortstop, but if say Jose Reyes becomes available, it might be worth looking into. If his power continues to develop, he has the arm strength to play third, and the market for third basemen is even more scarce than the middle infield. So, I think it makes sense in certain scenarios, but I don’t think you move him just to move him, there has to be some other plan in place.

  • Matt

    Does anybody remember how poor of a fielder Ramirez was when he came over from Pittsburgh? I think Castro will be fine, he is only 21 of course and like Ramirez, he will get better as he matures.

    • Ace

      Ramirez became a great fielder when he cared to put in the work. It looks like – and I’m just saying it *looks* like – he doesn’t care to put the work in anymore.

      But yes, I agree on Castro. The upside to be a great fielder is there.

      • Coal

        Not trying to compare MLB with Little League (though sometimes the Cubs take me there) but there is a reason you see a lot of just plain good athletes at shortstop. They are a bit of an infield “captain” (sorry to all catchers out there). It’s the position that gets the most chances, that is involved in the most plays, that has the brightest lights shining on them. In Little League, and on up through many High School programs, your shortstop is just your best “athlete”. Unfortunately, that’s kind of what Starlin is right now — the best guy on your team. Putting him at 2nd base (unless you have a lock at shortstop as an alternative) might help him develop, but I think it takes your best player out of the spotlight. We have so few guys who can perform at his level, I think the team is worse with him any other spot in the field. He has the most upside of any other player on the team — so I think he stays there unless/until there is a better pure shortstop on this roster, or waiting in the wings. We can thank Matt Garza for making this decision easier.

  • awesome

    if it was me, I’d move him to CF, he’d be a gold glove every year. i don’t think he’ll get better at SS. he’s had this problem for years according to what I’ve read. and i really believe Quade is lost. Barney hasn’t proven he isn’t a ML’er at bat or field. Hendry is bad judge of ML talent. this is just my opinion.

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