At 32-43, not much has gone right for the Chicago Cubs this year. They field a team with a .232 batting average, and are 28th in the MLB in runs scored. When looking through their lineup, one of the few reasons they have had any offensive production whatsoever, is shortstop Starlin Castro.
Upon entering the big leagues, Castro was seen to be a mega-prospect of sorts, a player who can be the beginning of a paradigm shift on the North Side. At first, there was no disappointment. He hit a three run home run in his first MLB at bat, and went on to lead the National League in hits in 2011, with 207.
The rapidly producing shortstop took a large step back in 2013 in virtually every offensive category, posting new career lows.
The contact hitting shortstop struggled immensely, only hitting .245, and striking out in 129 of his 666 at bats. Castro also only put up 10 HR and 44 RBI, and mustered a measly .284 OBP. Castro began to be the subject of a potential offseason trade, and it appeared that the once promising shortstop was taking a turn for the worst at the young age of 23.
Yet with a new manager and hitting coach in Chicago, Castro has changed his approach at the plate drastically, and it has paid off to a large extent. Despite the Cubs abysmal record, Castro is starting to look like the player most thought he was; a contact hitting shortstop.
Castro has produced a .284/.331/.478 triple slash, and has taken the role of cleanup hitter for a weak Cubs’ offense. The quantitative numbers have also improved for the changed Starlin Castro, who has already surpassed his home run total with 11 thus far, and has equaled his RBI total for all of last year at 44. Granted, there is not much pop in the bats that Castro has to hit around, but when the Cubs squeeze out a victory, it is often due in part to Starlin Castro.
Excluding the ridiculous campaign that Troy Tulowitzki has amassed thus far, Castro has been among the finest offensive shortstops in the game, and certainly has a case to be a reserve for the NL All-Star team. At 24 years old, shall he be selected to take part in the Midsummer Classic, he would be making his third All-Star Game appearance. While there is still some baseball to be played before the break, and much more left in the 2014 season, Castro has also put up a strong case to win the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Castro’s improvement in his game, both offensively and defensively, provide strong value for the Cubs on a team standpoint as well. Castro improved from an awful -0.6 WAR to a more acceptable 1.5 WAR this season, a stat that may improve as well.
While the 2014 Cubs will not be anything close to a contender this season, Castro, along with first baseman Anthony Rizzo, are two solid pieces in place for a Cubs team that has an array of young prospects on the way, including Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and plenty other high ceiling prospects that are bound to make the Cubs contenders as soon as 2015.
The 24 year old veteran has proven that he can make the difference to himself in 2014.
His next challenge will be making the difference to the Cubs and the rest of the MLB in 2015 and beyond.