Who remembers May 7, 2010? Because it was, in a word, amazing.
Starlin Castro, after weeks and weeks (and weeks) of speculation and anticipation, was called up to face Homer Bailey and the Cincinnati Reds in his Major League debut. As fans, we usually set ourselves up for failure when it comes to prospects. We expect too much and sometimes get too little.
This was not so with the young Castro.
While some were sad that our favorite Cub, Ryan Theriot, had to move to 2nd base because of incoming talent (Wait, just me? Fine), Castro proceeded to show us why Theriot had been moved over. In his first at bat, Castro launched a three-run homer on a 2-2 count much to the dismay of Reds Nation. He finished the night driving in a total of 6 runs after hitting a ho-hum triple later in the game as well. This marked the record for the most RBIs in a Major League debut by any player ever in the history of the world and/or universe. The MLB even kept his jersey and hat to send to Cooperstown.
I don’t care who you are, that’s an entrance. Again, just to be clear, the MLB took stuff that he wore during the game and put it in the Hall of Fame. Stuff from his first game. Ever.
Castro started his career in the bigs much like Kramer did every time he slid into Jerry’s apartment: It surprised the hell out of us, definitely made us smile, and had us wanting more (even die-hard The Riot fans).
Castro finished his rookie season in 2010 playing in 125 games and hitting .300. He also finished 5th in Rookie of the Year voting. That’s pretty much what you hope for when you bring up a young guy from the minors. And yet, all we heard as fans was, “Just wait, he hasn’t even reached his full potential yet.”
At the conclusion of 2011, the Cubs had lost 91 games and had finished 2nd to last in the NL Central. There was a bright spot, however, with Castro hitting .307 and being named to his first All-Star appearance. We all had hope. Sure his fielding needed work, but he was still only 21 years old. And so, we kept hearing, “Just wait, he hasn’t even reached his full potential yet.”
Somewhere between 2012 and now, however, that rhetoric stopped. We no longer heard that we had to wait. Instead, the praise and talks of potential not yet reached started to dissipate. It was replaced with sounds of grumblings about concentration in the field and lack of discipline at the plate.
What the hell happened? Was it his fault? Or the coaching staff’s? Or other outside forces?
Perhaps it was all of the above. Castro’s struggles are similar to a car crash. You’re never not at fault when you’re involved in accident. There’s always some percentage of the blame, no matter how low, that can be put back on you (Source: I used to be in the insurance game). It’s the same for Castro. The growing pains that Castro has felt over the past two years haven’t been a result of any one thing, but rather a multitude of factors: tough love from Sveum, legal troubles in the Dominican Republic, and just blatant lack of concentration on the field. All of these forces combined make it tough to play Major League Baseball and handle the pressures of playing for a highly popular team (random thought: would Theriot ever have had these issues?? I kid, I kid).
Are these just excuses? Shouldn’t a Major League ballplayer be able to handle the every day pressures that may come from a manager or outside forces or even in from within? Sure. Of course. But blaming Castro (if you’re in the front office, not as a fan) doesn’t get you far.
Where does this leave us as fans then? For some, Castro has been written off. For others, we want to see what he has mentally and physically moving forward. To get to a point, however, where our minds can be changed, we need to see the change. (That could be a band name actually, “Change for Change.” It’d be a Smashing Pumpkins cover band). Theo and Jed have put for the effort in helping this change come to fruition.
The Cubs believe they have the necessary tools in place to achieve the type of improvement we need to see for Castro. This starts with the new manager. Rick Renteria should not be looked at as a sort of savior, however (much in the way Theo and Jed are not saviors). But make no mistake, he was 100% brought in for his experience in coaching young talent and his ability to communicate effectively with his players. Translation: Castro needed someone else. No, he didn’t get Sveum fired. No, he’s not a “coach killer” (another good band name). But he is a young kid who needs a certain kind of tutelage. Hopefully Renteria can be that. I believe he will be.
We are at a crossroad. The change at this point is on Castro. The Cubs have done their part and tried to give him the tools to succeed. The rest is on him. While maybe the distractions were not all his fault, it’s time to step up his portion of the bargain. There is no doubt that he knows this.
Castro may be, for lack of a better phrase, on the “hot seat” for the 2014 season. But don’t expect him to be shipped off for peanuts or even a Gatorade vending machine. Our front-office has a lot of faith in Castro’s potential. Patience again will reign from Theo and Jed – they simply don’t trade just to trade. They want value that benefits the Cubs organization (this should go without saying). That being said, if the right deal comes along could he be moved? Sure. No player on this Major League roster is untradeable at this point. However the value will need to be worth it for the Cubs and fit into the overall “plan.” And at this moment, Castro is a huge part of said plan.
Perhaps I’m drinking the Kool-Aid of this new coaching regime, but I like what I hear from both players and coaches. Castro is trying to be a leader to fill the void left by Soriano and others. There are some other prospects coming up soon and he wants to be that mentor. He also knows this is an important year for him to show people he’s still an All-Star. I like both of these things.
2014 will be interesting. But I see Castro staying put. Probably. Well, most likely. Right?