Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum was a hard-working middle infielder for much of his playing career, so you can understand why he would develop a special relationship with young Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro. Well, there’s also the whole “superstar, face of the franchise” bit. Managers tend to spend extra time with them.
Because of that developing relationship, Sveum feels comfortable holding Castro to a high standard when it comes to Castro’s work on the field. Sveum has been demanding all Spring, but both he and Castro feel the 22-year-old will be better for it. From Cubs.com:
Sveum has been watching Castro since the first day position players reported to Fitch Park and working with him almost daily, including video sessions. What Sveum also has done is asked Castro to grade himself each day.
“Now I’ve got him doing that every day, and he’s coming up and saying, ‘I was a 10 today,’ and I’m like, ‘Nah,'” Sveum said. “I’m thinking, I was watching and there was that one little throw. I said, ’10 is perfect.’ [On Friday], he actually had a 10.
“He’ll be honest. He’ll say, ‘Eight today.’ I’ll say, ‘Eight — c’mon. Two balls out of 20? That’s not an eight.’ When you give guys little goals like that, I think they have fun with it, too.”
Those demands are paying off, if not yet in results (it’s still the Spring, so “results” aren’t really available yet), certainly in confidence.
“Gold Glove — that’s what I want,” Castro said. “That’s what I’m working on. I’m going to try to get a Gold Glove this year for sure.”
“The work ethic is better, the quality is better, the quantity is getting there,” Sveum said. “You have to get the quality first as much as anything.”
One of the goals is to get Castro to slow down a notch after he catches the ball so he can make more accurate throws.
“He’s got a great arm,” Sveum said. “You don’t need to speed that arm up with feet being too fast. That gets a lot of young guys in trouble. He’s been very, very receptive of everything I’ve asked him to do.”
Castro started his defensive drills this offseason in his native Dominican Republic. The Cubs provided a house for him and his family to stay in near the team’s academy in Boca Chica, and he worked on his throws, his footwork. He appreciates Sveum’s input.
“He told me, ‘Slow down, you need to know who’s running, know if they hit a ground ball in the hole, know who’s running, so you know how much time you have,'” Castro said. “Last year, that kind of ground ball, I’d throw the ball too hard and make an error.”
Castro’s upside as a defender is absolutely Gold Glove-caliber. Kids his age are typically busy putting up huge error totals in the middle to low Minor Leagues. He has tremendous range and athleticism, a powerful arm, and a smooth glove. He just needs to improve his approach and his decision-making. It sounds like he’s been hard at work on those very things.
As for Castro’s bat, while there aren’t the same concerns as with his glove, Sveum is still giving Castro special attention. Specifically, Sveum is ready to stand behind Castro’s as the team’s number three hitter, no matter what. From the Sun-Times:
Manager Dale Sveum has made Castro the No. 3 hitter, so the Cubs can start to build their lineup around him for years to come.
‘‘Yeah, I know the stats,’’ said Sveum, referring to Castro’s .225 average and .571 OPS in 187 career plate appearances in the 3-hole — all last season. ‘‘It’s a commitment I made. He’s still the best hitter on the team, and sometimes for the future of the team, too, you have to do it. Like I said early in camp, when do you do it to a good young hitter? Does anybody really know that answer?
‘‘It’s just something I committed to, and he’s been committed to it.’’ …
‘‘Rome wasn’t built in a day,’’ Sveum said, ‘‘but I think just this last week, even though he hasn’t gotten any hits, he’s gotten a lot better pitches to hit, and he’s looking more to the middle of the field.
‘‘I think it’s just time, and I think for the future of the franchise, it’s just best to get him there now.’’
I don’t disagree with Sveum that Castro’s future is in a “production” spot in the lineup, and I also don’t think last year’s stats are necessarily indicative of more than the fact that small sample sizes can be misleading. That said, just watching him last year in those games where he batted third, his approach appeared to change, with him jerking his body a bit more to generate power (Ryan Theriot Syndrome). Hopefully he just sticks to what has always worked for him, and the power will come naturally.