Results tagged ‘ Starlin Castro ’

Hot Off the Presses: November Vine Line featuring Darwin Barney

In November, Vine Line pays tribute to the power of hard work.

It wasn’t like Cubs second baseman and November cover boy Darwin Barney was an unheralded player. The 2007 fourth-round draft pick won everywhere he ever played, and the Cubs always loved his intelligent approach to the game. But that wasn’t enough to guarantee the 5-foot-10, 185-pound minor league shortstop a roster spot. After Starlin Castro made it clear he was the team’s shortstop of the future, Barney had to find another route to The Show.

When he won the Cubs’ starting second base job out of Spring Training in 2011, the position was mostly new to him. So he spent countless hours working with former third base and infield coach Pat Listach and the other Cubs coaches to hone his technique.

“We have a routine we do every day, and he’s religious about it,” Listach said. “Even on days we don’t take batting practice, he’ll come to me and say, ‘Hey, can we get on the field and get a few ground balls?’ He just doesn’t like to miss a day.”

What was most interesting about reporting this story was how willing people were to compliment the soon-to-be 27-year-old Gold Glove finalist (winners will be announced tonight at 8:30 p.m. Central on ESPN2). His work ethic is legendary among coaches and players. Castro even credits the former shortstop for helping improve his play at the position. Everyone we talked to was quick to sing his praises.

“Work ethic and the way he goes about it every day, Darwin Barney has been probably the most impressive guy I’ve come across,” said hitting coach James Rowson. “I’ve been around quite awhile now, and you will not find a harder worker than him.”

Two years and a 141-game errorless streak later, it’s safe to say the second base job is Barney’s for the foreseeable future.

In the November issue of Vine Line, we also look at the hard work of some of the players’ better halves. For years, the Cubs wives have donated their time and resources to the team’s communities in Mesa, Ariz., and Chicago. We talk to many of them about why they feel the need to give back and what it’s like to be the spouse of a major leaguer.

Finally, we talk to veteran coach McKay about the work he’s been doing to bring a winning mentality to this young Cubs team. And if there’s anyone who knows winning, it’s McKay, who spent more than 25 years with Tony La Russa and has three World Series rings.

For these stories and more, subscribe to Vine Line or pick up an issue at select Chicago-area retailers. We’ve also launched a Vine Line Twitter account at @cubsvineline to keep you posted on Cubs happenings up to the minute.

2012 Player Profile: Starlin Castro

Castro has proved himself as the Cubs’ top player and will be in Chicago through the end of the decade. (Photo by Stephen Green)

2012 Positions Played: SS (100%)
2012 Batting (AVG/OBP/SLG): .283/.323/.430 in 691 PA
2012 Wins Above Replacement (Fangraphs): 3.3
2013 Contract Status: Signed (through 2019, plus club option)

When Theo Epstein joined the Cubs, he said the organization would focus on acquiring impact talent. He did, however, know he had one out of the box in shortstop Starlin Castro.

In August, the Cubs locked up Castro through the end of the decade, buying up three years of his free-agency eligibility (with the option to snag a fourth, in 2020). The idea behind an extension like this is simple: The player gains security from the risks of injury and underperformance, while the team in turn gets cost certainty and the chance to hold a true bargain contract.

Castro’s extension has an additional feature, however—a relatively flat salary structure. The reported annual salaries range from $5 million in the first year to $11 million in the last. The takeaway is that Castro’s contract shouldn’t ever become a burden to the team. It’s common for general managers to backload contracts so that they can maximize their payroll flexibility in the present while, presumably, planning for the future. Instead, Epstein and Jed Hoyer have sent a real signal here of their long-term thinking and intentions to build a consistent winner.

Since Castro’s hit tool already is so strong—somewhere around plus-plus, or a 70 grade on the 20-80 scouting scale—his approach becomes the key to unlocking another level in his game. And there’s reason to believe there was real progress made in that area under manager Dale Sveum and hitting coach James Rowson.

The 22-year-old’s walk rate by month tells a visible story of improvement. Entering 2012, Castro’s career standard was just over 5 percent, and he was trailing that below-average figure pretty well over the season’s first three months. But starting in July, he made tangible strides in his plate discipline that brought him closer to the NL non-pitcher average of 8 percent walks. His strikeout rate showed an opposite trend overall, peaking at 18 percent in June before dropping to 14, 16 and finally 9 in the last three months.

Let’s take a closer look with PITCHf/x location data, as presented by BrooksBaseball.net and Baseball Prospectus (player card), to see if we can identify a difference in Castro’s first- and second-half approaches.

In the first half of the season, Castro was susceptible to swinging at any pitches middle-in to inside, including those off the plate or above/below the zone. In the second half, he cut his chase percentage in these areas significantly, to the tune of about 13 percentage points. He correspondingly let loose on more pitches in the zone, and he did more damage on pitches low and in.

(Note: The outside edges here are to scale—so they include pitches within about seven inches of the strike zone, not further.)

Another part of Castro’s game that appeared to improve this season was his defense, where he showed above-average range and more consistent throwing. He got to balls at a higher rate than before, especially relative to the league. A lot of that credit goes to Sveum, bench coach Jamie Quirk and the front-office analysts whose intel better positioned Cubs fielders than in the past. But their indirect effect on Castro’s improved throwing was also apparent. In 2012, Castro made a throwing error on 1.7 percent of his chances (assists plus throwing errors). That was half the rate from 2011.

Now, Castro didn’t universally show improvement this year, as his .283 batting average was the lowest of his career—and it brought his on-base percentage down with it. But there appears to be meaningful under-the-hood development. It’s a positive trend that the Cubs organization is betting continues over the next several seasons.

1000 Words: Starlin Castro is gunning to play 162


(Photo by Stephen Green)

With only three games remaining, Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro is poised to put his name in the franchise record books. Castro has appeared in 159 games this season, and has started all but one.

No Cubs shortstop has ever played in all 162 games of the regular season. Ivan DeJesus holds the franchise record at shortstop, playing in 160 games in both 1978 and 1979.

Cubs, Castro finalize deal

All season long the Cubs front office has stressed the importance of keeping the organization’s core of young talent intact. They made a big step in that direction Tuesday, finalizing an extension with shortstop Starlin Castro.

The Cubs and the 22-year-old agreed to a seven-year contract extension worth $60 million with a club option for the eighth year. The deal will keep the shortstop in pinstripes at least until he turns 30.

“The way it was looking, Starlin was going to be a free agent far too early,” Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. “He’s one of the players we’re building around and we’re excited to have him as a Cub for a long time.”

Castro, a two-time All-Star, led the National League in hits last season and is one of the game’s most exciting players.

“It’s great, especially for my family. Now my family is going to be better,” Castro said. “It’s life-changing.”

The Cubs signed the Dominican-born shortstop in 2006. He played 125 games as a 20-year-old in 2010 and has led the NL in hits with 486 in that time.

“I feel really, really happy because it’s the organization that signed me when I was a little kid and I don’t want to go nowhere,” Castro said.

Cubs All-Star Recap

Josh Vitters took part in Wednesday night’s Triple-A All-Star Game, wrapping up the Midsummer Classics for each level of the Cubs organization. Vine Line recapped how Cubs players and prospects performed in their respective All-Star Games.

Major League All-Star Game:

Starlin Castro: 0-for-1, flied out to center, two defensive innings played
Bryan LaHair: 0-for-1, ground out to shortstop, three defensive innings played

MLB Futures Game:

Jae-Hoon Ha: 2-for-2, HR, 2 RBI, R, started at CF

Triple-A All-Star Game:

Josh Vitters: 0-for-1, BB, K, four defensive innings played

Double-A Southern League All-Star Game:

Jim Adduci: 2-for-2, double, RBI, four defensive innings played
Frank Batista: 2/3 IP, 0 R
Justin Bour: 1-for-3, BB, started at DH
Kevin Rhoderick: 1 IP, BB, 0 R

Single-A Florida State League All-Star Game:

Arismendy Alcantara: 0-for-1, three defensive innings
Austin Kirk: 1 IP, 0 R, starting pitcher
Nelson Perez: 1-for-3, double, RBI, BB, started at left field
Greg Rohan: 0-for-4, started at DH

Single-A Midwest League All-Star Game:

Kyler Burke: 2/3 IP, 3 H, 2 ER
Zeke DeVoss: 0-for-1, three defensive innings played
Paul Hoilman: 0-for-2, started at 1B

Cubs contribute as NL tops AL

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Cubs standouts Starlin Castro and Bryan LaHair took part in the 83rd MLB All-Star Game Tuesday night in Kansas City. Both went hitless in one at-bat, but the National League secured an 8-0 win and home-field advantage in the World Series thanks to a five-run first inning. Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera was named the game’s MVP after going 2-for-3 with a two-run home run.

Profile: All-Star Bryan LaHair

Congrats to Starlin Castro and Bryan LaHair, who were both selected to the National League All-Star team yesterday.

The 22-year-old Castro earned his second All-Star honor in as many seasons, becoming the first Cubs shortstop to be named to the All-Star team in consecutive seasons since Don Kessinger’s five-year run from 1968-72. LaHair, 29, is the first Cub to be elected as a first baseman since Derrek Lee in 2007 and only the third Cubs first baseman to make the team in the last 30 years (Mark Grace).

Vine Line profiled LaHair in the July All-Star issue, on sale now. Here are a few choice quotes about his struggles in the minor leagues and the early All-Star speculation. The read the full interview, subscribe to Vine Line or pick up a copy at Chicago-area newsstands.

STAR STRUCK  I’m humbled by the talk. I’ve got to stay in the moment and prepare for today’s game. I never like to get too far ahead of myself. There are a lot of good players in this league and a lot of guys with time served. It would be great to go to the All-Star Game, but it’s just so hard for me. I’m in such a young part of my major league career, so I can’t say I deserve to be there. I’d be lying if I stood here and said I wouldn’t want something like that. It’s a great honor. It’s reaching the top. I think the whole state of Massachusetts is voting for me, or at least it seems that way.

FAMILY MATTERS  They kept pushing me every day—my mom and dad, and my wife [Nicole] especially. My wife has been with me since I first started. We met in ’04, which was one year into [pro ball]. She’s experienced the downs and the highs and the hard work and the success with no results coming from it. My family just kept pushing, telling me to work hard and keep the faith, and assuring me that good things would happen eventually. And they were right.

Cubs venture to the South Side — Part II

The Cubs got the season’s second crosstown series off to a lopsided start, hammering 15 hits and tallying 12 runs, in a 12-3 victory. Yesterday we broke down the pitching matchups for the Cubs’ series with the South Side Sox. Today we examine the infielders.

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Catcher

Geovany Soto (.173/.257/.337, 4 HR, 21% CS)  vs. A.J. Pierzynski (.286/.329/.512, 12 HR, 29% CS)

Geovany Soto is off the DL and looks to have retained his regular catching duties, despite a .173 batting average. Backup catcher Steve Clevenger (.284/.303/.392, 8 doubles, 76 PA), who played first base yesterday, looked good in Soto’s absence. Soto, a former NL All-Star and Rookie of the Year, will need to bolster his stats a bit to keep his everyday job.

A.J. Pierzynski continues to up his game, even at 35 years old. His .286 average is second-highest among AL catchers, and he leads that group in slugging percentage. He should get serious All-Star consideration.

First Base

Bryan LaHair (.299/.380/.572, 13 HR, 28 RBI) vs. Paul Konerko (.359/.434/.600, 13 HR, 38 RBI)

Despite not being in the lineup against lefties, Bryan LaHair’s numbers are some of the best among National League first basemen. So far this season, he has been one of the better feel-good stories in baseball. With the Cubs facing three righties this series, expect to see the 29-year-old slugger’s name penciled into the lineup all three games—even if it’s in the outfield, where he started the first game of the series. That could be a signal the team is readying for first base uber-prospect Anthony Rizzo.

But as good as LaHair has been, Paul Konerko has turned himself into a legitimate MVP candidate—an impressive feat for a 36-year-old many believed was past his prime. His .359 batting average is more than 40 points above his career high.

Second Base

Darwin Barney (.272/.319/.392, 3 HR, 22 RBI) vs. Gordon Beckham (.236/.286/.372, 8 HR, 27 RBI)

Darwin Barney has been a big contributor for the Cubs all season long. While Manager Dale Sveum has platooned much of the starting lineup, Barney has been one of the few steady regulars, regardless of the matchup. His .272 average and .319 OBP are third-best among Cubs regulars, and he has come through in the clutch on several occasions.

Former first-round draft pick Gordon Beckham continues to struggle at the plate after a promising rookie season in ’08. The Sox were hoping Beckham could emerge as a top-of-the-order guy when the season started, but his .286 on-base percentage has kept him at the bottom of the high-powered lineup. However, he did hit the go-ahead home run in the first game at Wrigley earlier this year.

Shortstop

Starlin Castro (.303/.317/.448, 6 HR, 38 RBI, 16 SB) vs. Alexei Ramirez (.230/.255/.282, 1 HR, 29 RBI, 9 SB)

Starlin Castro is putting together another solid campaign and will likely represent the Cubs in July’s All-Star Game. While he’s walked just six times in 285 plate appearances, he’s still hovering around a .300 batting average. And, despite a few mental gaffes, his defense is improving. His UZR ranks him as one of the NL’s elite defensive shortstops. He’s also running more this season. His 16 stolen bases are already closing in on his career-high total (22) from last year.

Alexei Ramirez has been ice cold for the Sox all season, which may be a bigger surprise than Konerko’s torrid start. Last year, the 30-year-old Ramirez finished with a 4.9 WAR (wins above replacement), good for 17th in the AL. This year, he sits a -0.6, third-worst in the league.

Third Base

Luis Valbuena (.294/.333/.647, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 12 AB) vs. Orlando Hudson (.176/.265/.297, 2 HR, 10 RBI)

The hot corner features a pair of newcomers to their respective teams. Luis Valbuena was signed by the Cubs a week before the season began and just started earning regular playing time after Ian Stewart went on the DL with wrist problems. Valbuena has produced offensively in the past, hitting .250 with 10 homers in 103 games for the Indians in 2009. In just five games this year, he’s already hit two home runs and driven in seven.

The Sox signed 34-year-old Orlando Hudson in May to take over for the slumping Brent Morel. The four-time Gold Glove winner and career second baseman has been moderately successful with the transition to third, committing three errors in 23 games, but he continues to struggle mightily at the dish.

Tomorrow, we focus on designated hitters and outfielders.

Castro hits way into history

Starlin Castro had a pair of singles Monday, giving the shortstop 400 career hits in just 325 games. Among major leaguers who debuted after 1980, Castro tied Alex Rodriguez as the sixth-fastest player to reach the 400 hit plateau, behind only Ichiro Suzuki (268 games), Nomar Garciaparra (302), Kirby Puckett (310), Hanley Ramirez (317) and Wade Boggs (324). He leads all NL players with 74 multi-hit games since 2011.

Despite having just a .326 on-base percentage this season, the 22-year-old shortstop leads the Cubs in hitting (.316), RBI (25) and is tied for the lead in stolen bases (12). He also has a .333 average with runners in scoring position.

Cactus Notes: Opening Day lineup revealed

Last Friday, Manager Dale Sveum set his lineup against the Dodgers the same way he plans on setting it Thursday against the Washington Nationals on Opening Day at Wrigley Field.

1. David DeJesus – RF
2. Darwin Barney – 2B
3. Starlin Castro – SS
4. Bryan LaHair – 1B
5. Alfonso Soriano – LF
6. Ian Stewart – 3B
7. Marlon Byrd – CF
8. Geovany Soto – C
9. Ryan Dempster – P

Throughout the spring, there was speculation about the top of the order, mainly over where Castro would bat. Sveum even toyed with Soriano in the leadoff spot, but after a powerful preseason (.316, six homers, five doubles), Soriano landed in the middle of the order. Barney was rewarded for his .392 Cactus League average with the second slot, and, despite a slow first half of spring, LaHair turned it around enough to secure the cleanup spot.

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