Second Basemen Starlin Castro has had one of the most up and down seasons of his career. The 25 year old slugger went from being the starting shortstop on opening day to having fans wanting him traded and eventually getting benched in early August, to being the Cubs hottest hitter in the month of September, hitting .426. Now, with the Wild Card game less than 24 hours away, also, his playoff debut, Castro looks to be one of the key factors if the Cubs want to make a deep postseason run.
Castro made his debut on May 7th, 2010 and boy was it a good one. In Castro’s first at-bat in the second inning, he took Reds starter Homer Bailey out to deep right field on a 2-2 pitch for a three-run homer, the first of his career, and then added a three-run triple later in the game. This was a record setting performance by the rookie shortstop, one that will always be remembered, but that’s not where his journey into baseball began.
Castro first got into playing the sport of baseball because he “wasn’t a good fisherman” and wanted to do something to help his family. As a young kid, Castro used a milk carton as a glove until he turned 13, where a man playing in Castro’s hometown of Monti Cristi gave him a glove. Castro continued to practice and then at the age 16 got his chance to shine in front of professional scouts. Once Cubs Latin American scouting coordinator Jose Serra showed up in the Dominican Republic province of Santiago, Castro was eager to show of the skill set he had. Once he began running, Serra admits that Castro “stood out” to him, and then Castro impressed him with his fielding range and batting practice performance. As soon as the workout was done, Serra got on his cell phone and called Oneri Fleita and said to him “We got a big leaguer here.”
Jim Hendry went out and signed Castro to a $45,000 signing bonus on October 25th, 2006 and immediately put Castro in the Cubs Dominican Republic academy. When Castro was signed, he was small, weighing in at 160 pounds, but man did he have the tools to become an\ great player for years to come. At first Hendry and Fleita were a little concerned in what Serra saw in Castro, but once he went 4-4 in the Florida State League all-star game in 2009, they knew they had won with this one. Hendry stated “My recollection was we liked him, we liked him, then, oh, we loved him”, but then later admitted he wasn’t going to say he knew that he was their guy from day 1. Fleita added “We’ve watched this guy grow so quickly that I don’t think anybody had a crystal ball to say when we signed him we’d be talking the way we are today.”
In 2011, Castro’s first full year as a major leaguer, Serra looked like a genius as Castro became the youngest Cub to ever be named to the all-star game at 21 years old. “You just don’t get there by accident” stated Mike Quade, who was Chicago’s manager at the time and he was right. In 89 games before the all-star break, Castro has a slashed .307/.335/.428 with a .763 OPS which is pretty good for a 21 year old. Castro finished the season slashing .307/.341/.432 with a .773 OPS. Castro went on to make three all-star teams, his last in 2014.
Castro has always been scolded and knocked for his work ethic and lack of hustle on the field. Early in his career this could be true, but after Castro hit a career low .245 during the 2013 season, he went into the off-season and began working out with Tim Buss who was his strength coach. Castro and Buss worked out twice a week in the Dominican Republic, spending long hours out in the heat. It wasn’t easy said Castro, but it paid off. In the first half of the 2014 season, Castro hit .276 with 11 home-runs and 52 RBI’s earning him his 3rd all-star nod marking him as the 3rd Cub shortstop in Cubs history to reach three all star games (Banks, Kessinger).
Castro began the 2015 season as the starting shortstop, and hit .325 during the month of April, but steadily declined after that. Castro was having fielding problems and hit .170 during July, which lead to his benching in early August. Castro had gone away from taking outside balls to right field, instead pulling off and hitting weak roll-over grounders to the left side of the field. After he was benched, Manager Joe Maddon moved him to second base, permanently starting rookie Addison Russell at shortstop. Castro was a professional about the move and has improved drastically hitting an incredible .426 during the month of September, which is when stars shine.
With the Cubs slated to face Gerrit Cole in a do or die Wild Card game tomorrow, expect Castro to be in the line-up as he is the Cubs best hitter off of Cole, batting .353 lifetime, and is .429 while facing Pirates stud closer Mark Melancon. If the Cubs make a deep post-season run in 2015, expect Castro to shine and be a huge part of their success and add another chapter to his great young career.