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.