Starlin Castro is a fine young player. A two-time All-Star at the tender age of 23, it seems like he is worthy of being praised as the cornerstone and foundation to the future of the Chicago Cubs franchise.
However, something is missing.
After signing a seven-year, $60 million extension, with a $16 million option for 2020, in August of 2012, Castro has been somewhat disappointing. In 451 plate appearances since the beginning of August of last season, Castro has a .278/.326/.413 line, with 26 doubles, five triples, seven home runs, 48 RBI, and six stolen bases. That isn’t terrible considering the typical limitations of middle infielders, but there are reasons to be concerned about the potential of the young shortstop.
Mainly, the start of the 2013 season is reason for concern:
Castro is struggling mightily at the dish, as he ranks 10th among shortstops with his .684 OPS, while also ranking 10th in wRC+ (similar to OPS+ where the average player has a 100) with his 85, and his current UZR/150 is -4.3, 20th of all qualifying shortstops, so he isn’t fantastic in the field, either.
I’m not saying that Castro is awful, on a downward spiral to mediocrity or worse, but should he be considered one of the top players in baseball?
In fantasy circles, Castro was rated 31st recently in Tristan H. Cockcroft’s (ESPN) preseason Top 250 (March 23rd), while finishing 34th in Matthew Berry’s (ESPN) preseason Top 200 (March 27). But…he hasn’t lived up to the hype and early season rankings, currently ranked as the 183rd player on ESPN’s Player Rater.
It is a small sample size for the 2013 season, but what about Castro’s career? Since the start of the 2010 season, Castro’s rookie year, Castro ranks 5th among all shortstops with his .754 career OPS. Fifth isn’t bad but Castro is tied with Marco Scutaro over that same time period.
Is Marco Scutaro elite? Is Castro’s ability to steal a base (even though he has only stolen two bases in 2013) worthy of a large investment? Castro was guaranteed $60 million last season and Scutaro had to settle for a three-year, $20 million deal. On the bright side, Scutaro is 37 and the Cubs are paying $16 million over the next three years with the potential for improvement…but based on his current .684 OPS, can Castro make the adjustments necessary to bounce back?
Castro’s walk rate is a career low 3.6 percent this season, his strikeout rate is at a career high (15.3 percent), and his contact rates, both the O-Contact (67.8 percent) and Z-Contact (88.1 percent) rates, are at career worsts, as well.
Starlin Castro has a long career ahead of him, and while things don’t appear as bright as they once looked, he should still have an impressive career. With Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara as potential fall-backs at shortstop, Castro could move to second or the outfield, especially if his defense continues to be less than fantastic.
With all of this being said, Starlin Castro still has the potential to improve and the 2013 season is still young. He could have an Ike Davis of 2012 second half outburst and truly look like one of the top 30 players in baseball, or…will he become the next Yunel Escobar, whose career has taken a nose dive after his first three seasons.