As Spring Training hit’s the midway point, my look at the Chicago Cub’s 25 man roster will continue early next week with the pitchers going under the microscope. However, before we travel to the pitchers mound, we must backtrack and go back to short stop for a brief look at the Cubs top prospect Starlin Castro. Before you start to get overly excited, my writing about Castro in no way means I think he will break camp on the roster. Cubs Manager Lou Piniella stated at the start of Spring Training that the teams starting short stop will be Ryan Theriot, with Castro starting the year in the minors with the Iowa Cubs. So then why am I taking a closer look at him if he wont be on the teams starting roster? Because he will be up in the majors much sooner than some people realize.
In an interview with 670 The Score at the start of Spring Training, Piniella said without hesitation that Castro will start the year in the minors, but would be called up instantly if Theriot got hurt and was unable to play. However, Theriot may not have to get injured for Castro to make his major league debut. While Piniella is saying all the right things when the discussion comes to why Castro has no chance to start in the big leagues, he is forgetting to mention the most likely reason. The main reason that has been given as to why Castro will start the season in the minors is to get a little more seasoning, because he isn’t quite ready for the big leagues. That may very well be the case with Castro, but thinking that is the only reason why would be absurd. We have watched the kid the past few weeks, and he looks simply amazing. Castro is tearing the cover off the ball, and is having one of the best Springs of nearly everyone on the roster; except for Theriot who is fighting to stay at short stop instead of being moved over to second base. That right there is what should be obviously the main indicator of Castro starting in the minors. If he even had a chance to start with the year with the Cubs , Theriot would be getting some Spring game starts at second so he and Castro could work on their double play combination. Piniella stated that Theriot will not play any second base in any Spring game.
One of the most commonly thought of reasons why Castro will likely be sent down to the minors, is to save a little money three years down the road. Baseball is a game which is all about money, and being able to save a few million dollars here or there is big. That extra million or two can get you another big bat off the bench, or the defensive specialist who you can bring in late in the game. In case you are confused as to what I am talking about, allow me to explain.
With young players, they are under team control for their first six years once they make the major leagues. In their first three years the salary they will make is locked in, but the money they can make in their final three years will be in question. Those are the arbitration years where players can renegotiate their deals on a year by year basis, just as a few players did this year; most notably Theriot who actually took the matter all the way to the courthouse. One way to put off these arbitration years, is to hold off promoting your young players until the end of May or early June. By doing so, ball clubs will have successfully squeezed an extra year of service out of the player, putting off their arbitration one more year. Before you start calling the Cubs cheap for pulling a move like this, consider that teams all over baseball have been doing things like this for years.
In similar cases, we only have to look to last year with the Chicago White Sox and Gordan Beckham and the Tampa Bay Rays with Evan Longoria. Both players were hot shot rookies who earned their spot on the opening day roster, but because teams wanted to get extra time out of them before they started to pay them the extra money, neither player started in the big leagues. Beckham was called up to the White Sox at the start of June, which ironically was after the deadline which allowed the White Sox the extra time. With Longoria, he tore up the minor leagues and was only called up to fill in at third base for Willy Aybar who went on the disabled list. Shortly after he was called up, the Rays signed him to a six year $17.5 million contract, with three option years at some pretty good money. That would cover at least the full six years of his initial major league contract. Before you start saying he got a big pay day for only being in the majors for six days, look closer at the deal. On average he will make just under $3 million a year. He would surely have earned a lot more had he not signed that deal. He took less money sooner and gave up several more million he could have earned, just to stay with the big league club and not risk being sent back down for two months. Could the Cubs do this with Castro? Of course they could, but that doesn’t mean that they should. There is always risk involved with pulling a move like the Rays did with Longoria. He could just be a one year wonder, sticking the Rays with a contract that pays a scrub very well. I am not saying Longoria is a one year wonder, just pointing out the risk.
After watching Castro for the first two weeks of games, you can clearly see why everyone is talking about Castro. The talk about how good this kid is, isn’t just coming from the Cubs scouts, but from scouts from across the league. Castro has an amazing arm, and great range at short stop. Even though the throw he made in the later innings of the Spring game today was a little off line (and lets be honest, if Derrek Lee was at first instead of Micah Hoffpauir, the runner would have been out) he made an amazing throw on the run. Not many shortstops have shown that they can make that play and throw the ball in one crisp move like Castro showed. He is by far a much better defensive player at shortstop that his predicator Theriot. As I stated in my look at shortstop and Theriot, he is not exactly a great defensive shortstop because he lacks the range and arm strength.
Not only can Castro flash the leather better than we have seen anyone do at that position since Shawn Dunston, the kid can flat out hit. He dominated the pitchers in the minor leagues last year, as well as the Arizona Fall League this past winter. His success with the bat hasn’t stopped there, as he has continued to show he can swing with the best of them in his chances this Spring. Today alone he went two for two while driving in two RBI. Currently for the Spring, he is hitting .455 with four RBI, those are impressive stats for Spring no matter who you are, or how young you are. While the performances show that Castro should make the club, both Theriot and Mike Fontenot are giving everything they have to show that they should be starters as well. They are out performing Castro, which will give Piniella and Hendry a much easier time explaining why Castro is being sent down without stating the money reason.
Should Castro make the team leaving camp? I believe he should, as his presence at shortstop with Theriot at second would give the Cubs their best chances of winning. The result of his being called up would also strengthen our bench, placing both Fontenot and Jeff Baker on the bench giving the Cubs some decent replacement players if needed in a game situation. However, what I think is the right move will not factor into the final decision on Castro, which was made before Spring Training started. Regardless of where Castro starts the season though, from everything we have seen up until now of the kid, he has a bright future ahead of him.