Results tagged ‘ Starlin Castro ’

Cactus Notes: Cubs set a record with home opener

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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 struggling to bring runners in

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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.

TeamSlugging

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.

PlayerSlugging

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.

Hof Off the Presses: May issue featuring the Cubs core

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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.

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.

To read these stories and more, pick up the May issue of Vine Line, on sale now at select Chicago-area retailers. Or subscribe to Vine Line today. And you can follow us on Twitter at @cubsvineline.

Here’s to a brighter future.

—Gary Cohen

1000 Words: Castro getting good wood

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

Despite having a 14-game hit streak snapped Tuesday, Starlin Castro has done well at the dish this season, reaching on a hit in 17 of 20 games.

Castro in the lineup with Cubs regulars Friday

9/19/20 REDS @ CUBS

(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

1000 Words: He’s Back!

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

In his first game back since Feb. 27, when he injured his hamstring, shortstop Starlin Castro was 1-for-1 with a single and a walk. He’s now batting .500 in four Spring Training games.

Castro back in the lineup, Baker to debut Sunday

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(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.

Cubs high on ESPN’s future power rankings

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

Much has been written about the organizational overhaul that has occurred on the North Side since Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over in November 2011. Over the last season-plus, the club has seen a dramatic improvement at both the major and minor league levels.

While many publications strongly believe in what the Cubs front office is doing, ESPN’s brain trust of baseball writers took things a step further, rating the Cubs the sixth best organization in their future power rankings.

ESPN described the piece as an attempt to measure how well teams are set up for sustained success over the next five seasons. Each team was ranked 1-30 (30 points were given if they were the best, 29 if they were second, etc.) on five different categories: major league quality, minor league quality, finances, management and mobility.

The Cubs, who ranked 16th last year, made the league’s biggest improvement. Below is what ESPN said about the club:

Chicago Cubs
Rank: 6
Majors (points awarded): 6
Minors: 26
Finance: 24
Management: 25
Mobility: 24
TOTAL SCORE: 65 of 100

The Overview
In Theo We Trust. This club is undergoing a teardown unseen this side of Houston, but they’ve rid themselves of pretty much every significant payroll obligation beyond 2014. It’s been an encouraging rebuilding effort, though Matt Garza’s injury woes will prevent them from extracting full value for him in a trade. — Buster Olney

The Dilemma
They have made a lot of strides adding position-player talent to the organization, and now they must add arms. Most of their winter spending was on pitchers, but they don’t have a future ace in the pipeline. — Jim Bowden

The System
They’ve turned around substantially after trading Paul Maholm, spending lavishly on international free agents (when permitted) and drafting well in 2012, although most of what I like about this system is a good two years  away.  — Keith Law

In a related story, ESPN Insider Dan Szymborski projected the best 30 players in 2018, which included a pair of Cubs in the top 15: Starlin Castro (8) and Anthony Rizzo (15). Below is what Szymborski wrote about each player:

8. Starlin Castro, SS, Chicago Cubs
Projected 2018 stats: .293/.341/.478, 19 HR, 4.7 WAR

Can he stay at short? The stats have generally been more positive (or at least, less negative) on Castro’s defense than the eye has been. Wherever he ends up, by 2018 he’s likely to be one of the best hitters for average over the past decade, though he’s not going to ever be a guy who racks up walks.

15. Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs
Projected 2018 stats: .273/.356/.520, 34 HR, 4.3 WAR

Ignore Rizzo’s cup of coffee with the Padres, his .285/.342/.463 line with the Cubs in 2012 is a far more accurate representation of where he is as a player. The Theo Epstein Cubs aren’t done rebuilding yet, but if they can round up a worthwhile third baseman, the infield will already be one of the best in baseball.

1000 Words: Castro and Soriano are ready

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro and left-fielder Alfonso Soriano have their bats ready for the Cactus League season. The Cubs open Saturday against the Angels in Tempe (Castro and Soriano are not in the lineup) and play their home opener Sunday against the Giants.

Cubs vs. Cubs, white team takes down blue 7-3

Game-1

The Cubs season is officially underway. After a few weeks of workouts, batting practice and bullpen sessions, the team cranked it up to game speed in a blue vs. white intrasquad matchup Thursday afternoon at HoHoKam Stadium. The veteran-laden white team took down the top prospects in the system 7-3 in a five-inning affair.

After a rainy day yesterday in Arizona—it even snowed in some areas—the grounds crew spent most of the morning getting the HoHoKam field back in playing shape. But by game time, things had dried out.

The white team got off to a fast start off blue team starter Chris Rusin in the first. After a David DeJesus groundout, Starlin Castro doubled, Anthony Rizzo walked and Alfonso Soriano singled to load the bases. New Cubs catcher Dioner Navarro followed with a single, and third baseman Ian Stewart laced a ringing double to left center to put the white team up 4-0.

Shortstop Starlin Castro, who many expect to have a big year in 2013, got off to a good start with the bat, going 3-for-3 with a double and three runs scored.

“Castro put two good swings and then just missed another really nice swing down the right field line,” said manager Dale Sveum. “That’s obviously one guy we really don’t have to be concerned with when the numbers are all done. That guy can just hit.”

Though the white team boasted most of the projected Opening Day starters, the blue team might have been the more interesting group, as it was loaded with many of the organization’s top prospects, including Jorge Soler, Javier Baez, Junior Lake and Brett Jackson.

And Soler didn’t disappoint. The left fielder gave Cubs fans a glimpse of the future when he crushed a soaring home run to left off minor league pitcher of the year Nick Struck in his first at-bat of the game. Soler also walked and made a good play coming in on a ball in left. Mind you, it was only an intrasquad, five-inning game and he was hitting off a minor league pitcher, but Soler certainly made a good impression.

“Pretty nice bat speed you saw,” Sveum said. “Those were some good at-bats—took a walk. … That guy following him up (Baez) had some pretty good bat speed going through the strike zone too—as well as Lake. There are some guys who are on that radar right now that could possibly be impact players some day.”

Top-ranked shortstop prospect Baez, who batted in the seven hole, had a little more of an up-and-down game. He struck out in the second and was robbed by Castro, who ranged to his left for a diving catch, in the fourth. On defense, he made a diving play of his own to rob David DeJesus of a single, but also got eaten up by Navarro’s single in the first.

“Baez was a little shaky today,” Sveum said. “Kind of some young stuff that’s still there that’s got to be cleaned up. [There's] a lot of stuff, even stuff that’s behind the scenes that everybody else doesn’t see, that we have to change—some instinctive stuff.”

New Cubs right fielder Nate Schierholtz homered in the bottom of the third inning and had an RBI sac fly for the white team. Brian Bogusevic, an Oak Lawn, Ill., native who spent the last three years with the Houston Astros, also homered for the blue team.

Following the game, Sveum announced that third baseman Ian Stewart, who was pulled from the game in the second inning, was day-to-day with a mild—emphasis on mild—left quad strain. Josh Vitters is also day-to-day with the same injury.

“It’s an epidemic,” Sveum joked.

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