Tuesday, April 6, 2010

An Opening Day balm to soothe the pain: Starlin Castro is the real deal

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.


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  2. You are right on about Starlin Hans, he is the real deal. When people like Keith Law on ESPN or Jim Callis at Baseball America, 2 of the most highly regarded people in Baseball insider circles say that, you know Starlin is the goods.The only thing Starlin Castro is missing is power, which will come later. Tim Wilkens is the best thing that has happened to the Cubs, scouting wise, in a long time. He is the reason for the improvement in the Farm System.

  3. Hey Rodeo! The only "expert" I've seen that's not so high on Starlin Castro is Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus. I've heard from "non-experts" who agree with him, though. I think Castro is one of those guys you need to see play. I don't think his peripheral numbers do him justice.

  4. I agree Hans, he is a player you have to see . People who saw him in the Fall league agreed in unison that Starlin Castro has "superstar" written all over him. I'll take the advice of people like Jim Callis who has been watching prospects for 20 plus years and Keith Law who worked in scouting departments over anybody else's opinions.

  5. I agree that Castro is the real deal. We'll see him sooner rather than later this year. If the Fontentot/Baker platoon struggles at all you can bet Castro will be called up to play SS with Theriot shifting to 2B. As for Goldstein, he may not be wildly enthusiastic about Castro but he still rates him a 5-star prospect.

  6. Hey Reno...Callis is a huge fan, isn't he? He had him rated ahead of Alcides Escobar on his list. He's one of the few people to do that largely because Escobar is just ahead of Castro developmentally, but Castro seems to be closing that gap quickly.

  7. Hey Scott...I hope you're right. I enjoyed watching him hit this spring. And even if he isn't 100% polished on defense, he's going to have that good range and good arm that will allow him to make plays that Theriot simply can't. Theriot's limitations will be hidden at 2nd and he'll likely rate as a good defensive player there. Fontenot doesn't kill us defensively at 2nd but, overall, a DP combo of Castro and Theriot is simply a much better DP combo than Theriot/Fontenot.

  8. To add to your comment on Goldstein, Scott. I'm guessing some of that 5 star rating has to do with Castro having a pretty high floor as well as a high ceiling. Even if I'm wrong and he never develops power or significantly increases his walk rate, he can still conceivably be an Edgar Renteria type player. Of course, he can be much more than that and we all hope he will be, but I just don't think he has that bust potential that we've seen from our previous top prospects.