Commentary

No reason to delay on Castro call-up

Young Cubs shortstop is ready to contribute -- even star -- at big-league level

Originally Published: May 7, 2010
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

Let's dispense with the punny headlines first: A Starlin is Born, Starlin at Short, Castro Stages Infield Coup, a Castro Revolution. He's got a great name, we get it.

And while we're at it, let's bring up all the other failed can't-miss prospects who have missed so dramatically that the mere mention of their names induces gagging sounds: Kevin Orie, Corey Patterson, Hee Seop Choi, Felix Pie. You know the lineup.

And now that we're talking, calling up shortstop of the future Starlin Castro is a great idea for the now and the future, even if it's a move made in relation to the Cubs' struggles the first six weeks of the season.

The fact that they made this move as a need -- I won't call it panic, because Castro was going to be up this season -- makes me like this move even more.

Because it means Castro is ready to contribute, if not star.

[+] EnlargeCorey Patterson
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesLike Starlin Castro, Corey Patterson was once a can't-miss prospect.

"I was like everyone else," first-year Double-A Tennessee manager Bill Dancy said in a phone interview Friday. "I read about him, and thought, 'Wow, he's too good to be true.' Then I watched him in the spring and watched him day in and day out here. He is what everyone says about him."

Castro, who was signed as an undrafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2006, was hitting .376 at Double-A Tennessee with one home run and 20 RBIs in 26 games for a first-place team. He was second in the Southern League in average, fifth in OPS (.990) and tied for sixth in RBIs.

Dancy said Castro hits to all parts of the field, has "gap power" and "plus, plus range with a plus arm" on defense.

Dancy's first managing job was in 1979 with the Phillies' Class A team. His shortstop was Ryne Sandberg, whom he replaced as manager for Tennessee this season. But if he had to pick someone to relate to Castro -- and he had to because I put him on the spot -- Dancy chose Juan Samuel, who had a fantastic rookie season as a second baseman for Philadelphia in 1984, finishing second to Doc Gooden for National League Rookie of the Year and making the All-Star team (with Cubs broadcaster Bob Brenly and Cubs Ryne Sandberg and Jody Davis). Samuel hit 15 home runs, drove in 69 runs and stole 72 bases. (He also struck out 168 times, but that's not what Dancy was referring to.)

"I put Starlin right there with him, 1-2," Dancy said. "Starlin doesn't run as well, but [Samuel] couldn't do some of the things Starlin can do with his glove. He's an exciting player to watch."

[+] EnlargeStarlin Castro
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesCastro should improve the Cubs' defense up the middle.

Dancy was alerted the Cubs were calling up Castro late Thursday night, by minor league director Oneri Fleita. Dancy waited until 7 a.m. to call Castro.

"I called him on the phone, bright and early and woke him up," Dancy said. "I said, 'You awake?' He said he was. I said, 'You need to wake up, because you're going to the big leagues.' He said, 'Really? Wow. That's great.'"

OK, it's not Quentin Tarantino dialogue, but what do you want? I can barely whisper at 7 a.m.

Dancy said he was surprised the Cubs called up Castro when they did, but he knew it was coming. Assistant GM Randy Bush had been down to watch, and Castro has been consistent. He didn't need Triple-A.

"Each club we face, their top three pitchers are probably their best prospects," Dancy said. "And he's made the adjustments, after they adjust to him. He's been hit, he's been moved off the plate, and he jumps back in there. For a 20-year-old to get tested that way, it was nice to see him, staying in there and battling."

Really, Dancy could go on and on. The only negative he could find on Castro was that sometimes he rushes a throw to first.

"But I think having [Alan Trammell] and Ivan DeJesus there will calm him down," Dancy said.

Minor league bona fides won't mean anything when Castro takes the field. It's up to him to make adjustments and show why the Cubs have been so high on him the past two years. The veterans are high on him, especially after hitting .423 in camp this spring. Ryan Theriot won't be thrilled, since he'll have to be shuttled over to second base, where he hasn't played in years. That's bad for arbitration, even with him hitting quite well.

But Lou Piniella, and his boss Jim Hendry, haven't been gun-shy about making moves to improve a confounding roster.

This year, we've seen the Cubs bring Tyler Colvin to Chicago, bench Alfonso Soriano for defense, demote Carlos Zambrano to the bullpen, move a slumping Aramis Ramirez down in the order, and now move Theriot to second.

When Piniella moved Ramirez to sixth in the order against the Pirates (it didn't work, obviously), he took umbrage with reporters who asked him if he was less patient than normal.

"Less patient?" he said, according to the reporters' stories. "What am I going to do, what until the All-Star Game to make moves?

"If I stayed the same for the next 15 games, the first thing I'd be asked is 'Why in the hell aren't you doing anything?'"

You can believe that Piniella was all for this move, because it gives him defense, especially up the middle, and lets the rest of the team know that few jobs are safe, if the Cubs didn't get the picture from the Zambrano move. Piniella and Hendry want to, and need to, win now. That's not a news flash, but Piniella isn't in a waiting mood.

Ramirez made two errors, fielding and throwing, and Theriot had one fielding error in Thursday's desultory 11-1 loss at Pittsburgh, finishing up the series sweep.

The Cubs are 13-16 going into this weekend series with the Reds, with bad defense, a still-shaky bullpen and a rotation that could free-fall. According to the Cubs' website, they were hitting .251 on the road before Thursday's 6-for-33 yawner, which explains the 6-10 road record.

Because of no-trade clauses and onerous contracts, not to mention high ticket prices and outsized expectations, don't expect to see a fire sale later in the season if things don't get better. But at least one more top prospect could be on the way, which could mean a bullpen stint for Randy Wells, Tom Gorzelanny or Carlos Silva down the road.

On the same day he lost Castro, Dancy lost top pitcher Andrew Cashner to Triple-A. Cashner had struck out 42 in 36 innings and held opposing hitters to a .176 average. He struck out 10 in each of his first two starts, and struck out eight in 5 2/3 innings Thursday night.

"He's been close to lights-out here," Dancy said.

Cashner's fastball stays mostly between 90 and 94 mph, and his breaking stuff is good, Dancy said, adding that Cashner needs to work on his changeup, which isn't uncommon for minor leaguers.

"This will be a good challenge for him in Triple-A with those veteran hitters," Dancy said. "He'll have to work on setting them up."

First Colvin came up, then Castro and now maybe Cashner. The Killer C's are coming to Chicago, and it's a good thing, certainly not a cause for panic.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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