Castro Called to Cubs

After being swept by the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cubs have informed top prospect Starlin Castro that he has been promoted to the Major League’s, according to ESPN’s Enrique Rojas. Castro will join the team for this weekend’s tilt in Cincinnati, and presumably, will become the starting shortstop, with Ryan Theriot moving across the bag to second base. Castro turned 20 on March 24, and has a cumulative 243 plate appearances above A-ball.

During those 57 games in Double-A, spread out over the last two seasons, Castro hit .332/.384/.482. In 26 games this year, Castro had failed to get a hit just four times, and recorded multi-hit games 16 times. The Cubs are calling him up following a four-game stretch where Castro went 9-for-17 with two walks and two extra-base hits. This winter, I profiled Castro in a two-part series, and found noticeable statistical, physical and positional similarities between Castro and Garry Templeton. The former Cardinal was also called up from Double-A at the age of 20, although he didn’t make his debut until August 9, 1976.

Before the season, I suggested the Atlanta Braves should not open the season with Jason Heyward on the 25-man roster, because it would cost the team a year of service time that could be added by just waiting three weeks. This is essentially the approach the Cubs have taken with Castro, signalling the team probably wanted to break north with him after a fantastic Spring Training, but given the service time, Castro’s age and the possibility of a Mike Fontenot and Jeff Baker platoon working at second base, wisely decided against it. While this is surely a rash move that will draw ire from Cubs fans ready to compare Castro to Corey Patterson, and the Cubs will likely have Castro become a Super Two arbitration-eligible player, they have likely retained his rights for the 2016 season.

I can find 27 examples of a middle infielder debuting in the Major Leagues at 20, but just 7 examples in the last 30 years: Wally Backman, Roberto Alomar, Wil Cordero, Luis Castillo, Jose Reyes, Jose Lopez and Elvis Andrus. Of that group, only Andrus and Castillo made the jump, and Castillo would be returned to Triple-A for parts of the next two seasons. The Cubs are in rare, but not uncharted, territory with this aggressive promotion of an elite talent. On Monday, I plan to further investigate whether this is any effect of a prospect being “rushed” by jumping Triple-A.

There will be varied opinions on how this move will effect Castro’s development, there is also the factor of whether or not Castro will make the Cubs better. Castro is essentially replacing the duo of Fontenot and Baker, a second base team that has put up a cumulative .262/.310/.346 batting line this year. ZiPS had Fontenot projected at .266/.331/.406 the rest of the season, and Baker at a similar .258/.319/.429. This .330 wOBA is Castro’s benchmark, a level he must hit at for Jim Hendry’s drastic move to hold any kind of water. There are also the defensive ramifications, as Baker and Fontenot both had 1.5 UZR through the last fielding update.

In Ryan Theriot‘s career, he has 536 innings at second base, and nearly 3,700 at shortstop. He’s been +16.5 UZR/150 in his limited time at second, and has established himself as +4.5 UZR/150 at shortstop. The reports on Castro’s defense have varied, but at worst, the agreements seem to praise his plus arm and caution his average range. Castro must be +5 UZR/150 at shortstop this year, and Theriot will have to continue to be an excellent up the middle defender.

However this is portrayed by people, the Cubs did not call up Castro on a whim. Whether the thinking behind the move is misguided will be a consistent point of discussion during Castro’s tenure on the north side, and it will begin with the wins and losses this team sees as a result of their middle infield play this season. If Castro doesn’t have a .330 wOBA and +5 UZR/150 defense, then I really can’t justify what Jim Hendry is trying to do here. As I said, the benchmark has been set.




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42 Responses to “Castro Called to Cubs”

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  1. Tom says:

    Great story, compelling and rich.

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  2. Larry Yocum says:

    I’m not sure I understand this move. Only the Cubs right?

    Fontenot is hitting .296 and doing what has been asked of him and Theriot is hitting .343. The Cubs have lots of problems, but so far this year it hasn’t been SS and 2nd base. Both are holding their own in the field.

    It makes little sense to rush a 20 year old unless it is a glaring weakness for them at either of those positions, but so far those guys have played well at or above replacement level at the plate and in the field.

    The Cubs are notorious for rushing and ruining prospects. Patterson was already mentioned and Pie was just starting to put it together in Baltimore this season before getting hurt and we all know how they have done with their pitching prospects over the years. Pie should just now be hitting the bigs for them and is instead with another organization. Looks like Castro will be another kid on a yo-yo and they can give up on him at 23 and move him someplace else as they hurt his development.

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    • Bryan Smith says:

      Larry, here is my problem with that analysis, and I don’t think you will find yourself alone in it: the idea of a “rushed” prospect is a reactionary term. We have never constituted what rushing a prospect consists of, so we slap it on players that fail to explain their shortcomings. You say that Pie “should just now be hitting the bigs”. Do you realize if that was true, he would have been a minor league free agent prior to his call up?

      Pie never skipped a level, and showed dominance in AA, competence in AAA before his first call up, and then dominance in AAA before his second. I don’t think you can say he was rushed at all. Until we define what rushing a prospect means, and until we show proof that it harms a players development, I don’t want to assume it to exist and slap the tag on any young player called up early.

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      • John says:

        Have to agree here. I really think it depends on the prospect. When I think about Corey Patterson, if the Cubs would have left him in AAA until 2009, would he have been ready? I doubt it. Some players are just never ready while others have the mental makeup and physical skills to make adjustments at a very young age. I don’t know which category Castro falls into but I don’t think it’s fair to compare him to other players just because they happened to be Cubs prospects.

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      • Thank you!!! That’s exactly how I feel about the subject. I’ve seen so many Giants fans complain in this way, I should just direct them to this comment.

        Great article, great comment response!

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      • Larry Yocum says:

        You don’t think having Pie on a constant yo-yo hurt his development?

        I have no problem with bringing a prospect up if you plan on playing him, but in the case with Pie, he was jerked around in the lineup and never really given a full shot. They continued to do that with him until they gave up on him.

        He was at least servicable last season and looked like he was ready to turn the corner this year until he was sidelined by injury.

        Do you think Castro is ready? As a 20 year old? There was just no reason for this move at this point. If we just skip the part about wheter we are rushing a guy or not and just focus on him, the move still doesn’t make sense.

        This move is just bad for so many reasons. One, it hasn’t been a weakness on the Cubs this season, but this is purely opinion based on my part.

        Two, just based on arbitration, they are screwing themselves on SuperTwo status. Let’s say Casto is the real deal. Now, he is eligible for arbitration that much faster and his six year window starts NOW. It’s just not how you manage top prospects anymore. They would have been better served to wait a month to guarantee that he doesn’t get SuperTwo.

        This is something obsessivegiants should know all about as bringing up Lincecum when the Giants did made him a supertwo and forced the arbitration process this last season. It cost them a big salary figure in arbitration, even though they gave him a contract, and also means that he could walk a year earlier. THAT is why they are prudent waiting on Posey. A mid season callup makes more sense as it will save them a season of arbitration and millions if it keeps him from super two status.

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    • berselius says:

      Quoting batting average on Fontenot is misleading, as it’s a pretty empty .296. He’s only hit three xbh’s (all doubles)

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      • PJ says:

        Being a super two doesn’t make a difference to clubs like the Cubs, especially in divisions like the NL Central where a 2 win improvement could make the difference in the division.

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  3. The Sheriff says:

    interesting “group” of infielders: Wally Backman, Roberto Alomar, Wil Cordero, Luis Castillo, Jose Reyes, Jose Lopez and Elvis Andrus. If we were to compare Castro to any other player aside from Templeton who would it be? My understanding is that this kid is a hit specialist with limited power and no speed. By all means correct me if i’m wrong….

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    • Bryan Smith says:

      I still think “no speed” is an overgeneralization. Given his SB numbers in the minors, and the predilection people have to Latin shortstops as fast, he’s not quick. But he’s not SLOW. And his power is limited now, yes, but scouts think it might become an asset down the road.

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  4. Kelly says:

    I think you’re missing something, Bryan. If Castro ends up contributing just as much as the Baker/Fontenot platoon, the Cubs still win because Castro is gaining experience at the Major League level rather than Double-A or Triple-A. That probably makes him more likely to be a better contributor late in the season and beyond.

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    • SMan says:

      If Castro ends up producing like the Fontenot/Baker combo, they fail because Castro will be destroyed by the fanbase.

      After a desperation move such as this, expectations are going to be through the roof and he will likely not be able to live up to them at all. If he does, coming out on fire, then fans will constantly expect that level of play moving forward or he will be considered a bust. If he plays merely well, he will not reach the expectations the organization has ensured. Its a lose-lose situation with this horrible timing on the part of the club…

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      • Bryan Smith says:

        I’m not sure I completely agree he’ll be destroyed by the fanbase. If he does what Fontenot is doing, and hits an empty .300, I think he’ll get away with a lot more than Fontenot is. Fan bases respond to batting averages, so as far as his perception in Chicago goes, that number will be the most telling.

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  5. Brian says:

    The main positives for Castro are defensive skills (although he needs to iron out his errors) and his low K rate (10-11% in the minors). While the power wasn’t really present when he was 18-19, he showed a bit more in the AFL and this year and scouts think he could develop ~ 20 HR power at his upside. Compared to the Andrus callup last year, Castro looks a lot better in terms of minor league numbers and K rate and should at least hit for a pretty good average.

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  6. Norm says:

    How about Howie Kendrick’s skillset, but as a SS? Seems logical.

    As for the “being rushed”…I’m thinking he’s just too good for AA pitchers so he won’t have to improve his BB numbers since he can just hit everything they’re throwing at him. Maybe they think he needs to see better pitching in order for him to keep developing.

    And Theriot’s defense in last nights game might have pushed them over the edge. His arm was too weak to get an out at 1B and than an error later.

    Let’s not kid ourselves that Hendry and Lou even know what UZR is.

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    • John says:

      I think that’s a fair assessment. There’s nothing that AA pitchers can throw that Castro is unable to make contact with most of the time. My own observations of Castro is that he doesn’t go up to the plate hacking. He takes a lot of pitches, works the count when the pitcher is wild and then seems to make contact with the first pitch he swings at…and at any rate, it’s hard to get three past him. As pitchers get tougher, his strikeout rate will go up but I think his walk rate will too. He’s not going to be a guy who walks 70 times, but he isn’t Shawon Dunston either.

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    • Oscar says:

      So we have the latin Howie Kendrick at SS now and the white Howie Kendrick at 3B in AA? Nice.

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    • Matt says:

      LOL

      You are kidding yourself if you actually believe that you know even one tenth of what either of those two lifelong baseball men. Of course, they know what UZR is and what it’s limitations are, the latter of which I have no doubt that you have no clue about. So STFU with your Cubs hate.

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  7. don says:

    A-Rod had an okay year as a 20 year old shortstop.

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  8. Mike says:

    Alex Gordon will tell you all about skipping AAA and being rushed to the big leagues.

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  9. Minor league splits translates his AA numbers this season into a .300 BA with an .802 OPS.

    Perhaps he’s ready?

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  10. Matt says:

    Why use wOBA as the benchmark rather than, say, OPS? Even if he only produces singles at a significantly higher clip than baker and Fontenot, that would be valuable for the club, would it not?

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  11. knebworth says:

    They should sign Rojo and let him play instead.

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  12. sansui says:

    Grab your popcorn. The Cubs are the soap opera that just gets funnier and dumber every week. Hey at least it’s an entertaining trainwreck, unlike the boring trainwreck that are my beloved White Sox….

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    • Matt says:

      LOL

      Typical miserable White Sox fan. There’s only one team dumb enough to think Juan Pierre, Omar Vizquel and Mark Kotsay are worth spots on a 25 man roster.

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  13. 81 says:

    2/3, 1 HR, 1 3B, 6 RBI through 4 innings off fellow “rushed prospect” Homer Bailey. As samples sizes come it doesn’t get much smaller but it’s at least an encouraging start.

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    • Ted Lehman says:

      I’m not that impressed, since Homer Bailey is basically an AA pitcher.

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      • John says:

        It isn’t about who he faced. I think too many people make sweeping generalizations based on data of their choice. You have to observe Castro and know something about the game to understand why some people are excited. His approach at the plate is extremely advanced for a 20 year old. If you look up his walk rate, the knee-jerk reaction is that this guy is undisciplined. He is anything but. Castro effectively worked the count, taking pitches out of the strike zone, got a feel for what the pitcher was throwing him and then made contact with most of the swings he took. And this isn’t a one game phenomenon. He has had this approach throughout his minor league career, the AFL, and spring training. Similarly, if you read stats on his SB rate, you’ll think his speed is mediocre. But when you see him flying from first to third, tripling on a ball to the gap in left field in a park that’s only 375 in the gap, with an excellent defensive CF like Stubbs getting to it quickly…you’d be hard-pressed to say this kid isn’t fast. If you’re not impressed, if you don’t understand why people think Castro is talented, than you haven’t been watching…or, you don’t know what to watch for.

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      • Paul says:

        How many skinny 20 year old shortstops have you seen pop a hanging curveball over the RF fence in their first MLB at-bat? That’s not a fluke, most every day veterans don’t have the ability to do that with that pitch. And to follow on John’s comment on the triple, not only was it a short gap and Stubbs in CF, that ball was absolutely smoked. The Starlin Castro era has begun.

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  14. PJ says:

    It’s not like Fontenot was Chase Utley here. C’mon guys, there always comes time when when an old and busted player needs to hit the road, and the new shiny firecracker needs to get a chance. I think he’ll be able to get a .330 wOBA. I mean that’s Melky Cabrera territory. That’s a low benchmark.

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  15. HNF says:

    It’s nearly impossible to speculate anything along these lines in baseball. When a game like this has such an overwhelmingly huge emphasis on mental stability and demeanor, you can basically throw past numbers and statistical predictions out the window. For all we know, Castro’s presence alone might spark his teammates and give the Cubs a new sense of youth and prosperity.

    All you can say for sure is that 1. The Cub’s were playing bad baseball and 2. They did something and they hope their decision will get them to play better baseball. Then you just wait and see and hope for the best.

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    • Bryan Smith says:

      “It’s nearly impossible to speculate anything along these lines in baseball.”

      This is not the right site for that belief, plain and simple.

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  16. Big Offer says:

    Actually on topic: I was just offered Rodriguez and Castro for Zimmerman and Garza. So, essentially, Rodriguez and an open roster spot for Zimmerman and Garza. Yay or nay?

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  17. H.Villanueva says:

    I can’t understand why everyone is going insane about this promotion. The kid is extremely talented and in my opinion had very little to learn at the double AA level and while he would face more polished pitchers at AAA it would probably be a step down stuff-wise. Finally, if he’s not a more valuable player than Ryan Theriot (Rob Neyer be damned) by virtually any measure ( WAR, RC/9, OPS+) you choose I’ll borrow a really antiquated phrase and eat my hat.

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  18. baty says:

    personally, I think the Cubs should have shifted Carlos Zambrano over to shortstop instead. He hits better than Fontenot and Baker combined. I do understand the value in a $100 million dollar set-up man though, so I can see why they didn’t.

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  19. Oliver says:

    Two games in and he still doesn’t have a single. When he does, he’ll probably the quickest player to complete a cycle (so to speak), at any age. Either that, or he’ll be the guy with the most extra base hits before his first single. I’d love to know who holds those distinctions currently.

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  20. vivaelpujols says:

    I disagree with your last sentence. I would bet the Cubs are also hoping that calling up Starlin early may also be a positive for his development.

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