Results tagged ‘ Starlin Castro ’

Spring Training Preview: Around the Horn

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

Baseball is finally back. Pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training this past weekend, and Cubs fans everywhere got a little more excited with the realization that the baseball season is almost here.

To get us back into gear, the February issue of Vine Line previewed the squad heading into Mesa, Ariz. We broke the team down into five categories—starting pitching, relief pitching, catchers, infielders and outfielders—to give fans a clearer picture of what to expect when the Cubs break camp and head to Chicago.

Below is a look at the infield. The February issue is on newsstands now, with single issues available by calling 800-618-8377. Or visit the Vine Line page on Cubs.com to subscribe to the magazine.


Darwin Barney had a breakout season in 2012 on the defensive side of the ball, winning a much-deserved Gold Glove, but his bat still leaves something to be desired. With a front office that highly values the ability to get on base, Barney’s sub-.300 OBP could be a cause for concern. While his glove alone makes him playable on an everyday basis, it will be interesting to see if he can improve enough offensively to help ease any doubts Theo Epstein and company may have about his future role.

Starlin Castro deserves credit for realizing that despite a solid batting average, he can still improve as an all-around hitter. Under the tutelage of new hitting coach James Rowson, who took over when Rudy Jaramillo was relieved of his duties on June 12, Castro was asked midseason to alter his aggressive style at the plate. He struggled at first, which explains why his batting average fell when Rowson took over. However, toward the end of the season, something seemed to click. Not only did his batting average rebound to a respectable .283, but he was also walking and hitting for more power. With a full offseason of training under his belt, expect an improved approach at the plate to lead to big things in 2013.

Anthony Rizzo hit 15 home runs in just 87 games after a midseason call-up. In his second season, he’ll be relied upon, along with Alfonso Soriano, to provide much of the power for the Cubs’ offense. Rizzo will likely slot back into the three hole, where the Cubs envision he’ll be a mainstay for the better part of the next decade. And his defense at first will also keep up the high standards set by his predecessors Derrek Lee and Mark Grace.

The biggest question mark is what will happen at third base. With a lack of options in the minors or via free agency, the Cubs decided to retain veteran Ian Stewart. It appears the team will enter Spring Training with Stewart battling Luis Valbuena for the bulk of the playing time. Though both left-handed hitters struggled with the bat last season, Stewart’s ceiling is much higher, as he provides plus defense and has shown in the past that he has solid power (25 home runs in 2009). If Stewart can prove his issues over the past few seasons were actually the result of a nagging wrist injury—which he finally had surgically repaired in July—it’s possible the Cubs may once again get solid production from the hot corner. Otherwise, look for Stewart, Valbuena or whomever else the Cubs may find, to serve as placeholders until one of the organization’s third-base prospects is ready to step in and assume the role on a long-term basis.

Cubs Convention kicks off next Friday

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

Ready to get the 2013 baseball season started? The Cubs campaign kicks off next weekend, Jan. 18-20, at the 28th Annual Cubs Convention, held for the first time at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers in downtown Chicago. The event will feature more than 75 current, past and future Cubs players and coaches, and will offer more than 100 photo and autograph opportunities.

The Opening Ceremony begins on Friday, Jan. 18, at 5 p.m., and will feature player and alumni introductions on a red carpet runway that will offer special VIP access to children 16 and under. Following the Opening Ceremony, guests will find some of their favorite Cubs throughout the hotel for an exciting Autograph Hunt Game. The evening will conclude with longtime Cubs Convention favorite Cubs Bingo, led by Wayne Messmer, as well as a live radio broadcast of WGN Sports Night.

Saturday’s program continues the gaming fun with the return of Cubs Jeopardy, which pits alumni pitchers Milt Pappas, Scott Sanderson, Lee Smith and Rick Sutcliffe against alumni position players Jose Cardenal, Jody Davis, Randy Hundley and Todd Walker. Cubs Family Feud makes its Cubs Convention debut Saturday afternoon, as Cubs alumni Bobby Dernier, Jon Lieber, Gary Matthews and Billy Williams take on current Cubs Michael Bowden, Shawn Camp, Brett Jackson and Ian Stewart.

Fans can meet many of the club’s offseason acquisitions—including pitchers Scott Baker, Scott Feldman and Edwin Jackson; catcher Dioner Navarro; and outfielder Nate Schierholtz—at the Meet the New Cubs session hosted by new television analyst Jim Deshaies and play-by-play broadcaster Len Kasper.

Additional Saturday sessions include:

  • Ricketts Family Forum—Tom, Laura, Pete and Todd Ricketts speak with Len Kasper and fans about their experience as team owners over the past three years.
  • Meet Cubs Baseball Management—President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, Executive Vice President/General Manager Jed Hoyer, Assistant General Manager Randy Bush, Assistant General Manager Shiraz Rehman and manager Dale Sveum speak about the club’s recent moves and what lies ahead for the 2013 season.
  • From Draft Day to the Big Leagues—Cubs minor league prospects Dallas Beeler, Matt Szczur, Robert Whitenack and Tony Zych discuss what it’s like to get drafted by the Chicago Cubs and advance through the minor leagues.
  • Dale Sveum and the Coaching Staff—The Cubs manager, bench coach Jamie Quirk, hitting coach James Rowson, assistant hitting coach Rob Deer, bullpen boach Lester Strode, first base coach Dave McKay and third base coach David Bell speak with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies about what’s in store during the staff’s second year.
  • For Kids Only Press Conference, presented by Advocate Health Care—A unique Q&A session where kids ask the questions to Darwin Barney, David DeJesus, Brooks Raley, Anthony Rizzo and Chris Rusin.
  • Renew Wrigley Field—Cubs executives discuss ideas to preserve and renew iconic Wrigley Field based on input from Cubs fans, season ticket holders and the community.
  • Not for Women Only—Scott Baker, Scott Feldman, Matt Garza, James Russell, and Travis Wood discuss their personal sides and lives off the field.
  • WGN Radio’s Sports Central—This live broadcast with WGN Radio’s Jim Memolo and Glen Kozlowski will feature segments with David DeJesus and Matt Garza; Darwin Barney and Jeff Samardzija; Tony Campana and Starlin Castro; and Brett Jackson, Edwin Jackson and Anthony Rizzo.

Sunday’s program features two panel sessions to close out the Convention:

  • Down on the Farm—Senior Vice President of Scouting and Player Development Jason McLeod, Director of Pro Scouting Joe Bohringer and Director of Player Development Brandon Hyde will be joined by Cubs farmhands Chris Rusin and Josh Vitters to give a breakdown of the Cubs minor league teams from Iowa down to Mesa. Hosted by Vine Line editor Gary Cohen and broadcaster Dave Otto.
  • Stat Sundays—Broadcasters Jim Deshaies, Len Kasper and WGN’s Bob Vorwald offer insight into the statistics they analyze and feature during Stat Sundays throughout the season.

In addition to the sessions highlighted above, the Convention includes many new and returning activities throughout the weekend for fans:

Rookie of the Year Movie Night, presented by the Cubs Kids Club, makes its Cubs Convention debut. Fans can eat popcorn and relax with family and friends Saturday evening while watching the popular film, Rookie of the Year.

Walgreens Field is a new miniature turf diamond that gives kids a fun place to take practice batting, play pick-up wiffle ball games or participate in professional instructional clinics as part of the Baseball Interactive Zone. Cubs players and coaches will pair up with Illinois Baseball Academy instructors to conduct a series of training opportunities for fans of all ages throughout the weekend.

Comcast SportsNet Chicago is giving fans the chance to test their play-by-play broadcasting skills in a custom-built fantasy broadcasting booth. Guests will call a pre-recorded play in the booth, then download a recorded copy of their work for keeps.

MLB Network’s Strike Zone allows fans to test their arm speed and win prizes at an inflatable speed pitch.

The Sony PlayStation Gaming Zone gives attendees a chance to take a break from the action to play MLB 12 The Show at one of several Sony PS3 kiosks.

The LEGOLAND® Discovery Center returns with an area dedicated for families to exercise their creativity with the small building blocks.

American Girl’s Activity Area features activities inspired by American Girl dolls and the chance to win a new doll and book.

The Chicago Sun-Times Photo Kiosk lets fans have their picture taken for the front page of the Chicago Sun-Times with customizable headlines that make for a memorable souvenir.

Fans can learn about or contribute to the history of the Cubs franchise in collaboration with team archivists. Historical pieces of memorabilia will be on hand for viewing, and guests can receive professional tips on how to preserve their own valuable keepsakes. Attendees are invited to share their personal stories with a video crew, and they may be used in future promotions or publications.

Limited individual weekend passes for the 2013 Cubs Convention are still available for $60 per pass plus convenience fees. Visit www.cubs.com/convention or call 1-800-THE-CUBS. A percentage of the proceeds from the Cubs Convention benefits Chicago Cubs Charities. To date, Cubs Convention has raised approximately $4 million for Chicago Cubs Charities.

Castro, Rizzo among Law’s top young players

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(Photo by Chris Bernacchi)

The past few years on the North Side have been dedicated to the future. The Cubs’ goal has been to establish young talent at the major league level and give those players every available opportunity to become stars, either now or in the future. Apparently, some baseball experts have taken notice.

ESPN’s Keith Law unveiled his list of the 25 best major leaguers 25 years old or younger, and Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo were both part of the talented group (subscription required).

Castro, who was ranked No. 6 on last year’s list, came in at No. 8 in the 2013 edition and was the second highest ranked infielder of the 25. The 23-year-old had a .283 average and a 3.4 WAR in 2012 and improved his plate discipline and defense as the season progressed.

Law on Castro’s future:

“If Castro barely improves from here, he’s still a valuable big leaguer because he can handle short and is likely to hit at least .300 with plenty of doubles power. I think he’ll grow into 20-homer power in time.”

Rizzo, who also made the list, slid in at No. 18 and was the highest ranked first baseman. After struggling in a 2011 call-up with the Padres, he put doubter’s minds at ease with a .285 average and 15 home runs after a late June call-up to the Cubs in 2012.

Law on Rizzo’s future:

“A full season for Rizzo in 2013 should see him hit close to 25 homers with an average in the high .200s along with that great defense at first. … Given his age and the speed with which he has made adjustments, I like his odds of figuring out southpaws.”

Law’s top five were Mike Trout (Angels), Bryce Harper (Nationals), Jason Heyward (Braves), Giancarlo Stanton (Marlins)  and Stephen Strasburg (Nationals).

Cubs 2013 ZiPs projections unveiled

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

Each year, sabermetric enthusiast Dan Szymborski compiles projected stats for the upcoming season for all major league players. Using an intricate formula, the computer-based projections, better known as ZiPS (sZymborski Projection System), give an estimate for most notable offensive and pitching categories. Late last week, Szymborski unveiled his projections for the 2013 Cubs.

It should come as no surprise that shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo are projected to make the biggest impact in 2013, each slated for a 4.0 WAR (wins above an average replacement player). Castro is projected to hit .294/.332/.446 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 14 homers, 12 triples, 24 stolen bases and 77 RBI. The slugging Rizzo rates out at .279/.349/.503, with 31 homers, 109 driven in and 32 doubles.

On the pitching side, Jeff Samardzija projects to be the best starter with a 3.1 WAR. He’s estimated to throw 169 innings, strike out 172 batters and record a 3.62 ERA.

According to Szymborski, newcomer Edwin Jackson should have an ERA around 3.91 over 186.2 innings and fan 159 hitters. His estimated WAR of 2.8 is slightly better than Matt Garza’s 2.7.

Projected WAR of starting pitching candidates:

Jeff Samardzija: 3.1
Edwin Jackson: 2.8
Matt Garza: 2.7
Scott Baker: 1.6
Carlos Villanueva: 1.4
Travis Wood: 1.3
Scott Feldman: 1.0

Projected WAR of starting lineup:

Starlin Castro: 4.0
Anthony Rizzo: 4.0
Darwin Barney: 2.3
Alfonso Soriano: 1.8
Welington Castillo: 1.6
David Dejesus: 1.1
Nate Schierholtz: 0.8
Ian Stewart: 0.4

1000 Words: Soriano’s career change

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

Cubs left-fielder Alfonso Soriano kills time during a rain delay by commandeering some of photographer Stephen Green’s equipment (with reluctant model Manuel Corpas).

This is another shot that didn’t make it into our 2012 photos of the year feature in the December issue of Vine Line. All month, we’ll be posting some of the extras here on the blog.

2013 Cubs Convention passes on sale now

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The MVP awards were handed out Thursday night, signifying the official end of the the 2012 baseball season. But just because Spring Training is still months away doesn’t mean Cubs fans can’t get their baseball fix.

From Jan. 18-20, Cubs faithful will have an opportunity to meet more than 50 current and former players, coaches and front office associates at the 28th annual Cubs Convention. For the first time in the event’s history, it will be held at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers at 301 E. North Water St., and it promises to deliver all the fun and excitement of previous years.

Some of the headliners expected to attend this year include Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins and Billy Williams; current stars Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Brett Jackson and Jeff Samardzija; and front office personnel like Dale Sveum, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer.

Individual weekend passes for the event went on sale earlier this month, and there are still some available. Each pass is $60 plus convenience fees. To purchase your pass, visit cubs.com or call 1-800-THE-CUBS.

Guests can also still book rooms at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers by calling the hotel at 800-233-4100. Ask for the Cubs Convention rate of $179/night plus tax. Guests who book a two-night stay will receive a limited edition, authenticated, autographed photo of Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson.

The convention will run from 1-9 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m-midnight Saturday and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit cubs.com.

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.

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