By Dave Wischnowsky-
(CBS) Last week, before Chicago was swallowed whole by the arrival of Rizzanity, Theo Epstein spent a little time chatting with the media about another Cubs youngster.
Some guy named Starlin Castro.
“He hasn’t completely found his groove overall offensively this year,” the Cubs’ president of baseball operations said about Castro, the team’s precocious shortstop whose average has still been hovering around .300 most of the season despite not being groovy.
Epstein’s main topic of discussion about Castro was his patience at the plate – or rather his lack thereof – which led the Cubs’ boss to then add: “With any 22-year-old you start to get riled up, and I think it’s time to step back and look at the age and understand.
“Close your eyes and say ‘What’s this guy going to be like at 27?”
At that age, I’m guessing Castro is going to look pretty darn good. But by the time Castro is 37 years old, I suspect he’ll look even better – or at least having kept him in Cubs pinstripes certainly will.
Well, because barring a major injury or a complete collapse of his skills, the Cubs’ shortstop should have recorded his 3,000th hit by then – perhaps even well before then.
Yes, for those of you wishing the Cubs would trade Castro – he of the regular brain cramps and irregular bases on balls – I’d urge you to first ponder the path to history that he’s likely walking along.
Starlin Castro, who last season rapped out 207 hits and is averaging 1.2 per game in 2012, is currently on pace to record his 500th career hit this August at the tender age of 22. Of the 28 men in Major League Baseball’s 3,000-hit club, only four of them have had at least 500 hits by that age.
Yes, just four.
Only Robin Yount (717), Al Kaline (710), Ty Cobb (616) and Hank Aaron (520) had cleared the 500-hit mark by the age of 22. The first three all debuted when they were 18 years old and were in their fifth season at that point, while Aaron broke into the bigs at age 20 – just like Castro – and was in his third year.
As a point of comparison, when he was 22, all-time hits leader Pete Rose had just 170 of them after completing his first season and winning Rookie of the Year. Stan Musial, meanwhile, had 387 hits when he was 22 years old, while Carl Yastrzemski had 346.
Because of military service, Willie Mays missed the season during which he was 22 years old. But even if he had played, “Say Hey” wouldn’t have had 500 hits by then. At 23, he had compiled 157.
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who currently has 3,184 hits at age 38, had just 195 back when he was 22. Tony Gwynn had tallied a mere 55. And Lou Brock? Well, the Cardinals legend debuted with the Cubs at age 22 and finished that season with just one single.
On the other hand, Honus Wagner, Paul Waner and Wade Boggs – who rank Nos. 8, 17 and 26 on the all-time list – didn’t have any hits at all at 22.
They weren’t even in the majors yet.
Even the Mariners’ hitting machine Ichiro Suzuki – who very well might have been able to break Rose’s all-time record if he played his entire career in the U.S. – wasn’t that far ahead of where Castro is at right now when he was 22. Playing in Japan, where he debuted at age 18, Ichiro had 618 hits after his fifth season. He now has 3,792 combined between his stints in Japan and MLB.
If Castro maintains his current pace and plays in every game this season (he probably won’t), he would finish season with 547 career hits. By averaging 200 hits per season going forward – not unreasonable – he would be able to reach the 3,000 mark some time early in the 2025 season when he’s just 35 years old.
Jeter tallied his 3,000th hit last season just a couple weeks after his 37th birthday, which made him the fourth youngest to reach the milestone. Only Cobb, Aaron and Yount got there faster. Right now, Jeter has more hits at his age than Pete Rose had when he was 38.
And Castro could potentially reach 3,000 two years quicker than even Jeter did. So, again, tell me exactly why anyone would want to trade this kid?
I can think of 3,000 reasons why the Cubs should not.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.