Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

starlin-castro-batFor whatever reason, Keith Law has the reputation of hating everything about the Chicago Cubs’ young players. Kevin Goldstein had that reputation, too. And other prospecting types have that reputation, too. Hmm. I suspect that perhaps rather than having a particular bias, the Cubs simply haven’t historically had a great set of young players – and we, as fans, tend to pump up the players the Cubs do have a bit more than they might actually merit.

But maybe that will be changing soon.

Law recently wrote his annual Top 25 MLB Players Under 25 piece, which looks at the best players already in MLB (with exhausted rookie eligibility) under the age of 25, and ranks them. According to Law, “This is a ranking of how I would order these players if I were starting a franchise and would have them for the next several years, not just 2013.”

Since that’s precisely what the Cubs are trying to do in accumulating a “young core,” it’s good to see that they had two entries on the list: Starlin Castro at number eight, and Anthony Rizzo at number 18. Castro came in behind only Trout, Harper, Heyward, Stanton, Strasburg, Kershaw, and Machado, so it’s a pretty impressive compliment. Rizzo was the highest-ranked first baseman on the list.

The article is of the premium variety, so I won’t share too much, but here’s some of what Law had to say about the present and future of Castro:

Current: Castro’s bat speed and hand-eye coordination have produced very impressive results for a player who has yet to turn 23, walks about twice a month and is only an average runner …. He’s also improved himself to the point where he’s playable at shortstop and might be forced off the position by another player, rather than forcing himself off of it through poor play.

Future: If Castro barely improves from here, he’s still a valuable big leaguer because he can handle short and is likely to hit at least .300 with plenty of doubles power. I think he’ll grow into 20-homer power in time, and while his walk rates are pretty low, he’s not hopeless at the plate, giving me some reason to think he could add 15-20 walks a year in time.

The “current” sounds like a fair description, and the “future” sounds awfully exciting. If Castro hit .300 with 20 homers and added those additional 20 walks, he could be putting up a .300/.360/.470 line … while playing average or above average shortstop. That’s the kind of performance that would make him one of the most valuable players in all of baseball. Hopefully he takes that step forward as soon as this year.

As for Rizzo, Law is equally enthused:

Current: …. The changes [to Rizzo’s swing] largely worked: Rizzo cut his strikeout rate dramatically versus his 2011 tenure with the Padres, even making more contact against southpaws.

He’s a terrific defensive first baseman and has earned high marks for his makeup from all three of the organizations that have employed him.

Future: A full season for Rizzo in 2013 should see him hit close to 25 homers with an average in the high .200s along with that great defense at first. He’s only moderately patient, although that might improve as he becomes more of a power threat. The biggest question is whether he can avoid becoming a platoon player: He raked against lefties in Triple-A last year but had just a .599 OPS against them in the majors, albeit with a .221 BABIP. Given his age and the speed with which he has made adjustments, I like his odds of figuring out southpaws.

Assuming Law is correct about Rizzo’s future against lefties, it sounds like he could be a centerpiece of the lineup for the better part of a decade (while playing Gold Glove defense at first). Together with Castro, that’s absolutely the start of a quality offensive core. Add just two more quality bats, or one elite bat, and you could easily have an above-average offense.

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