Results tagged ‘ Starlin Castro ’
(Photo by Stephen Green)
Most of the Cubs offseason was dedicated to speculation about whether young stars Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo could bounce back from disappointing 2013 campaigns. Through the first two weeks of the season, things are looking good, as both have gotten off to fast starts. While the team’s record might not be indicative of their strong play, the Cubs’ two most important offensive names have played to the level that earned them each seven-year extensions before their 24th birthdays.
Rizzo, who has batted in the heart of the order this season, is hitting .319/.389/.489 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with a pair of home runs, two doubles and eight RBI in 54 plate appearances. Power wasn’t an issue last year, as he was fifth in the National League in extra-base hits, but his abysmal .191 batting average with runners in scoring position limited a lot of the Cubs run-scoring opportunities. This season—in, admittedly, a very small sample—he’s hitting .400 in with runners in scoring position and giving life to the offense.
“I think you try to eliminate the stress that comes in that particular situation,” said Cubs manager Rick Renteria. “The reality is the pitcher’s the one on the ropes at that time. It’s tough to hit in the big leagues. It’s not the easiest thing to do. You’ve got a guy out there on the hill who’s trying to get you out and has a mix of pitches. Then you have yourself, trying to stay within yourself, trying to do what you can do and allow the situation to dictate the type of approach you should be taking. It’s just through trial and error and experience and continuing to talk about it [that we get better].”
Castro, who is two full seasons removed from a 2011 campaign in which he led the NL in hits, looks to be regaining his old form. The 24-year-old’s .300/.327/.460 line is well above where he finished in 2013 (.245/.284/.347), and he looks to be more comfortable at the plate. The shortstop has been batting mainly second or sixth so far and seems to be comfortable in either role.
“When you talk to all the guys, they’re not worried so much about where they’re hitting in the lineup,” Renteria said. “He’s comfortable wherever we put him. The player who ends up putting himself in the position where he believes he should only be hitting in a particular spot, puts himself in trouble.”
Spring is a time for hope, optimism and new beginnings. This season, the Cubs are welcoming a new manager, several new coaches and a host of new players to the fold.
We talked to Cubs personnel, new and old, about the feeling in camp this year and how things are different under skipper Rick Renteria.
We’ll be posting videos and stories from Cubs Park throughout the spring, so watch the blog and our Twitter account, @cubsvineline.
Check out the other videos from our Spring Training series:
Cubscast Mesa, Inside Cubs Park
Cubscast Mesa with Rick Renteria and the 2014 coaching staff
Cubscast Mesa with the top prospects
Cubscast Mesa: Meet the new guys
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part One
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part Two
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part Three
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part Four
The Cubs opened their Spring Training slate Thursday by setting a single-game Cactus League attendance record at brand new Cubs Park. 14,486 fans showed up on a near-perfect 75 degree day in Mesa, Ariz., to watch the Cubs drop a 5-2 affair to the Diamondbacks. The previos attendance record was set on on March 23, 2013, when 13,721 fans watched the White Sox visit the Dodgers.
Though today was Rick Renteria’s first official game as a major league manager, he said he didn’t have any butterflies.
“It’s obviously my first game as a manager in major league camp, but it feels just like another game,” he said. “We’re getting ready for the season and today’s the first day of basically a test to see how everybody’s doing. We’re going to use it to see what aspects of the game we need to improve on and basically see where everybody’s at.”
Emilio Bonifacio got the game off to an exciting start when he tripled in his first at-bat in the leadoff spot. He was eventually driven in by Luis Valbuena. Renteria compared the speedy Bonifacio to Chone Figgins in terms of his defensive versatility, but reiterated that Darwin Barney is expected to be his second baseman on Opening Day.
“[Bonifacio] is a guy who puts it on the ground and if he gets it through someplace, he’s got a chance to go like he did there—all the way to third base,” Renteria said.
The highlight of the game was Starlin Castro, who went 2-for-2 on the day with one RBI, hitting the ball hard both times.
“[Castro] had some nice at-bats,” said Cubs manager Rick Renteria. “He’s been working, and his body language looks good. The guys look like they’re working together, so it’s kind of moving along. And it’s just the first day, so there’s so much time ahead of us to figure out all that. But it was a good day for him.”
Chris Rusin, who went 2-6 with a 3.93 ERA in 13 starts last season, will face off against the Angels’ Jered Weaver in Tempe on Friday. The game starts at 2 p.m. CST and will be broadcast on WGN Radio.
Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro is one of the few Cubs hitting well with runners in scoring position. (Photo by Stephen Green)
On many occasions throughout Cubs manager Dale Sveum’s tenure, he has made it clear that slugging percentage (total bases divided by at-bats) is his go-to number when evaluating a player’s approach at the plate.
On paper, the 2013 Cubs’ power stats look good. The team’s .420 slugging percentage is second best in the National League, largely thanks to the squad’s 48 homers (third in NL) and whopping 101 doubles (15 more than the next-highest NL total). But like many stats, these numbers can be a bit deceiving. While displaying strong power stats is never a bad thing, baseball is predicated on timely hitting. As the graph below indicates, the Cubs struggle with men in scoring position compared with other NL teams.
The Cubs sit in the top five of most common statistical categories with nobody on base, but those same numbers drop drastically with men on second and/or third. It’s interesting to note that their home run and doubles don’t decrease, though the slash line takes a huge hit. We also looked at the eight regular position players to see how they have fared with the bases empty versus with runners in scoring position.
Of the eight regulars, just two are hitting better with runners in scoring position than with the bases empty. And while Starlin Castro and Luis Valbuena have a higher slugging percentage with runners in scoring position, the same cannot be said for the rest of the team.
The basic stats make it look like the Cubs have one of the better offenses in the National League, but they’re going to need some more timely hitting for those stats to have an impact in the standings.
Please don’t judge me, but …
I grew up an Atlanta Braves fan. Look, there wasn’t much I could do about it. I moved a lot when I was younger and lived in Atlanta in the early ’80s. With each subsequent move, I was able to follow the Braves because of TBS.
Here’s what I remember about the Braves from my younger days—1981 was a miserable, strike-shortened year; 1982 was a blast until the postseason (a phenomenon I didn’t realize would repeat itself throughout my adulthood); 1983 was solid; and then depression set in.
The Braves were 80-82 in 1984, and that was by far the best it would get until the franchise began its unprecedented run of regular-season success in 1991. The late ’ 80s saw a wretched slide that reached its nadir in 1988, when the team went 54-106.
So why am I recounting this sad chapter from my childhood? I see a lot of similarities between what the Braves were doing in the late ’80s/early ’90s and what the Cubs are doing now.
In 1990, the Braves went 65-97, good for last place in the NL West, 26 games behind the Reds. In 1991, they shocked the baseball world by winning 94 games and getting all the way to Game 7 of the World Series. Since then, they’ve been one of the most stable and consistently excellent teams in pro sports.
But the Braves’ worst-to-first run didn’t come out of the blue. In fact, the team probably wasn’t as bad as its record in 1990. If you look back at the roster, it included names like Steve Avery, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Mike Stanton, Ron Gant and David Justice. All those players had some important things in common—they were young, untested, and between the ages of 20 and 25.
When we talked to Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein for our January issue, something he said resonated with me.
“There are two ways to really improve your team in a hurry from one year to the next,” Epstein said. “One is sign impact players or bring in impact players from outside the organization. The other is to have a wave of young talent that’s approaching their prime years at the same time.”
The Cubs might not shock the world this year, but they’re building that wave of talent—players who can grow together, win together, lose together, and ultimately figure things out together as they move into their prime years.
One of these waves is at the major league level now in Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Jeff Samardzija and Edwin Jackson. Epstein calls these players the “Cubs core.” And the organization is developing another strong group in the low minor leagues with high-ceiling players like Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Pierce Johnson and Dillon Maples.
In the May issue of Vine Line, we talk to the Cubs core about what it means to them to play in Chicago and how they plan to turn potential into major league success. One thing is clear—no matter what the record said at the end of 2012 or what it says right now—these guys do not buy into the presumption that the Cubs are years away from winning.
We also check in on the new minor league affiliate that is helping develop the next wave of top talent. After eight years with the Peoria Chiefs, the Cubs switched their Midwest League affiliate to Kane County, located about 40 miles from Wrigley Field’s doorstep. There are huge benefits to having a farm team nearby, and the Cougars and Cubs both hope to take advantage of that in 2013 and beyond.
Finally, we look at the other side of the Cubs equation—the fan base. This season, the team has developed an advertising and marketing campaign based on the fierce dedication and undying passion of the best fans in the game. We talk to the stars of the new ads and the Cubs front office to find out how it all came together.
Here’s to a brighter future.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
As the season nears and the rosters continue to get cut down, Cubs fans are starting to get a real sense of what the Opening Day lineup is going to look like. While there are concerns about improving an offense that averaged just 3.78 runs/game (14th in the NL) last year, opposing pitchers should still approach shortstop Starlin Castro with caution.
That’s because the pop in the Cubs’ lineup starts with the team’s projected No. 2 hitter. The 2011 NL hits leader dipped to just a .283 average last year, but saw an increase in home runs from 10 two years ago to 14 last season. It’s worth noting his midseason dip in production coincided with the hiring of hitting coach James Rowson.
Rowson worked extensively with the 22-year-old, especially on plate discipline, which could have been a cause for the slip. But as the season wore on, it appears the work started to pay off. Normally knocked for his inability to draw walks, Castro doubled his first half walk total in the second half of the season.
Though Spring Training numbers can be easily dismissed, Castro’s .476 average with three walks in 25 plate appearances is another example of the progress he’s making. And plate discipline will be more important than ever this year. Batting in front of mashers Anthony Rizzo and Alfonso Soriano should result in better pitches to hit, as opposing pitchers will be reluctant to put Castro on base.
The shortstop will be in the lineup Friday as the Cubs take on the Brewers. Carlos Villanueva gets the start for the 3:05 CST game, which can be seen on MLB.TV. Here’s the lineup Milwaukee ace Yovani Gallardo will face:
CF David DeJesus
SS Starlin Castro
1B Anthony Rizzo
LF Alfonso Soriano
RF Nate Schierholtz
C Welington Castillo
3B Luis Valbuena
2B Darwin Barney
P Carlos Villanueva
(Photo by Stephen Green)
Two-time All-Star Starlin Castro will be back in the lineup for the Cubs Wednesday afternoon as they square off with the Colorado Rockies.
The 22-year-old has been out since Feb. 27 after injuring his hamstring while running the bases. Despite being out two weeks for precautionary reasons, the injury was never deemed serious, and Castro continued to practice. He’s participated in three games so far this spring.
With first baseman Anthony Rizzo out with the Italian squad at the World Baseball Classic (Italy vs. Puerto Rico, 6 p.m. CST), non-roster invitee Edwin Maysonet will get another crack at first. He’s hitting just .130 in 13 games this spring.
Scott Hairston will slide over and play center field, giving prospect Jorge Soler more time in right. The 21-year-old Soler is hitting .304 in 26 plate appearances.
Cubs fans can listen to the game’s free webcast on Cubs.com. Edwin Jackson will get the start against the Rockies, who will be sending out lefty Josh Outman. Here’s the full lineup Outman will face Wednesday:
3B Luis Valbuena
2B Darwin Barney
SS Starlin Castro
LF Alfonso Soriano
CF Scott Hairston
C Dioner Navarro
RF Jorge Soler
1B Edwin Maysonet
P Edwin Jackson
Cubs Notes: Scott Baker is slated to make his first Spring Training start on Sunday. It will be his first official return to the mound since having Tommy John surgery in April 2012. He went two innings in a minor league game on Tuesday.