Starlin Castro, who is entering his age-25 season, is the longest tenured member of the Chicago Cubs.
Let that sink in for just a moment.
Castro has been in the organization since signing as an amateur free agent on October 25, 2006, for a cool $50,000. Four years and 1,098 minor league plate appearances after that, he debuted with a two-hit, six-RBI day on May 7, 2010, against the Reds.
Fast forward to 2015, and Castro is about to start in his fifth straight season opener.
It is fitting that Dale Sveum turned in the first Opening Day line-up card of the Theo Epstein administration on this very date in 2012. Not only is Castro the lone Cub starter still on the squad, he is the only player to appear in the Opening Day line up in each year of the Epstein regime.
Other than Castro being slotted third in the order between Darwin Barney and Alfonso Soriano, it’s a rather forgettable line-up. You can take a look at it in full here, if you dare.
The average age of the players around Castro in that line-up was 30.7, as it featured four 30-year-olds — Soriano (36), Marlon Byrd (34), David DeJesus (32) and Jeff Baker (31).
On the other hand, it’s interesting to note the average age of the projected everyday line-up around Castro in 2015 is 26.7. It features three players who are 25 or younger in Anthony Rizzo, Arismendy Alcantara and Jorge Soler. Whenever Kris Bryant makes his debut, he could be the fourth such player. Depending on Alcantara’s position, if Javier Baez comes back and starts, he could be the fifth.
The front office has executed quite the overhaul under Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer.
Fourteen members of the current 40-man roster were acquired via trade since 2012, while 10 were free agent signings. The Cubs even used the Rule 5 Draft to find closer Hector Rondon, and have made the most of what was left behind be the old regime, finding bit roles for 10 different home grown players. And, while the Cubs haven’t had a player from any of the Epstein-Hoyer drafts debut yet, that can change in as little as 12 days.
While Castro was plugging away in The Show, the organization was in the midst of wholesale organizational change at the minor league level.
Rizzo provided help at the major league level in June in 2012, but true organizational change began with a draft that produced Albert Almora and Pierce Johnson, who entered the organization’s top 10 prospect list shortly after being selected. Jorge Soler joined that group after being the last (and youngest) of the three stud Cuban outfielders (the others being Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes) to sign with a team. Kyle Hendricks was acquired from Texas in exchange for Opening Day starter Ryan Dempster a month later.
These weren’t earth-shaking moves at Clark and Addison. Just the foundation for an organizational rebuild.
All the while, Castro’s bat was simultaneously providing a steadying force in the lineup and hope for a better future ranking in the top 10 among his positional peers in the following categories:
- Hits (500,3rd)
- Doubles (96, 5th)
- Home runs (38, 8th)
- RBI (187, 7th)
- Slugging (.402, 8th)
- weighted on-base average (.313, 8th)
- Average (.272, 9th)
- ISO (.130, 10th)
Hardware isn’t given away solely because a team has a good foundation or organizational structure. Ultimately, the Cubs will be judged by wins and losses moving forward. It is a stark change from what many have come to expect in recent years. The team has a lot to prove, starting tonight under the lights at Wrigley Field.
The 2015 Cubs shouldn’t be the best team Castro plays for, but instead, it should represent the most talented group of players he has played with in his major league career. But, considering what he has done with minimal protection around him and for some of the worst teams in franchise history, I’m intrigued by the possibilities that lie ahead for a focused, motivated player in the hunt for the franchise’s first winning season since 2009.