I know it's only one day but 16-5? Really? That is not the way I envisioned our season starting. If this is any indication of what our team is going to be like then it won't be long before we start seeing more kids, starting with Starlin Castro. Not that the loss was Mike Fontenot's fault. He did his part on defense and he could not possibly have hit enough to help the Cubs squeak out a 17-16 victory. But Fontenot is part of the present, not the future. And if the present begins to slip away then the Cubs will get the DeLoren ready and zip Back to the Future. Odds are Starlin Castro will be driving that DeLorean, but is he the real deal or is he just another in the long line of hyped prospects?
I think he's the real deal.
I've heard the detractors..
* the Cubs can't develop prospects. He's just the next Corey Patterson
* he doesn't walk enough
* he's not fast enough
* he doesn't hit for power
* his defense is solid to good, but not elite
They're all valid points and I'm not going to discount them. What I will say is that Starlin Castro is just a good old-fashioned ballplayer. Subjective? Maybe. But here's what I think...
The Cubs have had trouble developing prospects but some of that has been because they have overrated amateur players in the Hendry/McPhail era. Tim Wilken now heads the scouting department and even though he's still an old school scout, he does it far better than Hendry does. Whereas Hendry looked at athleticism and tools...and seemed to pay no attention to mental makeup (see Ben Christensen, Corey Patterson, Mark Pavelek), Wilken looks for physical tools, but he also makes sure the players have what it takes upstairs. And baseball ability is preferred over raw athleticism. You can blame the Cubs development staff for past failures, but let's face it, raw athletes with limited baseball specific skills and questionable makeup aren't that easy to develop. I think guys like Castro, Josh Vitters, Brett Jackson and Jay Jackson all have a better shot of making the Cubs development staff look good.
But let's get back to Castro. The most specific complaint you hear about Castro is his low walk rate. Now I believe walk rate is important and I don't want to downplay it, but not all walk rates are created equally. If you ever get the opportunity to observe Castro, you will immmediately note that he is not a Soriano-esque hacker at the plate. He works the count. He gets a feel for what the pitcher has in terms of stuff and often looks at least at one breaking ball before swinging. The difference is when Castro swings, he simply hits the darned thing with impressive regularity. That speaks to his tremendous hand-eye coordination, efficient swing, and the ability to pick up quickly on how the pitcher is trying to work him. Unlike players like Vitters and Tyler Colvin, I think Castro will significantly improve his walk rate over time. He just doesn't swing at a lot of bad pitches. It's just that right now, given he's facing lower level pitchers, he has little trouble hitting the first pitch he likes. And the ball just jumps off his bat. Eventually, because he generally swings at good pitches and because he has yet to fill out physically, Castro will add above-average power to his offensive skills.
As for the other criticisms, that he is not an elite runner or defender, I say that's getting a little nitpicky. He is good in both areas. It's his bat that will carry Castro to the majors anyway, and if he develops as I expect, increasing both his OBP and Slugging Pct. to go with his hitting for average skills, we are going to see one of the better shortstop bats in the game. Couple that with good defense and speed and you've got yourself one heckuva ballplayer.
Forget about past failures like Corey Patterson. This time you can believe the hype.