By Dave Wischnowsky-
(CBS) He may be a natural-born hitter, but when it comes to playing the field, Starlin Castro is not a natural-born shortstop.
He just plays one on TV.
During his rookie season in 2010, Castro committed 27 errors in just 123 games. During his sophomore campaign, he committed 29 in 158. Last season, he committed 27 in 162. And this year, he already had committed four through 21 games heading into Friday night’s in Miami.
I don’t think that’s the kind of “Committed” that the Cubs meant with their slogan this year. But, hey, it fits.
And the problem with Castro is that he doesn’t. Not up the middle at least. And not when the team is likely to soon have another very appealing option to fill his sizable shoes.
Considering that, at some point the Cubs need to seriously consider moving Castro to a position – third base, perhaps – that’s more befitting a career .959 fielding percentage. And they perhaps should consider experimenting with such a switch sooner rather than later.
This spring, Cubs phenom Javy Baez – selected as the No. 9 overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft – was invited by the Cubs to the big-league camp in Arizona. The invitation positioned Baez as the latest challenger for Castro’s job at shortstop, which Castro knew but was very magnanimous about.
Regarding Baez’s presence in Mesa, Castro actually encouraged the youngster by saying, “I tell him to keep going hard. It’s a business. Try to take my job, like I did when I was (in the minors coming up).”
Meanwhile, Castro spoke confidently about his own future when he said, “I see myself as my whole career is going to be at shortstop. And not just as a shortstop, but a good shortstop that can win a Gold Glove and hit, and everything.”
Well, hitting isn’t a problem for Castro – not with more than 550 career hits already at just the age of 23. But fielding certainly is. Currently, the Cubs shortstop is on pace to commit more than 30 errors this season.
That’s troubling considering how Castro is now in his fourth year in the majors, a time when one would think that he’d be getting more comfortable playing shortstop. But that doesn’t appear to yet be the case.
And the reality is, it may never be. Certainly, Castro might finally develop into a serviceable shortstop – I’d say that becoming a Gold Glover seems like a reach. But, with Baez in the wings is there really a truly compelling reason to just cement Castro in the middle of the field for the foreseeable future?
What about instead experimenting with him elsewhere on the diamond?
As Cubs fans know, the team doesn’t have a top third-base prospect in its system (Josh Vitters isn’t it). But the team does currently have a third baseman in Luis Valbuena who can play second base. And the Cubs also have a second baseman in Darwin Barney who’s a natural shortstop.
So, what if at some point this season – I’m not suggesting that the Cubs do it just yet – the team moved Castro to third, Valbuena to second and Barney to short?
Neither Valbuena nor the light-hitting Barney are likely to be key cogs on the Cubs roster once (if?) the team becomes competitive. But if Castro was able to develop into a third baseman that could ultimately be the answer to a major question mark for the Cubs’ future plans.
Also consider this: Aramis Ramirez, the last consistent third-sacker the Cubs had, boasts a career fielding percentage of just .950. So when you stack Castro’s .959 percentage up against that, it actually looks pretty good.
Which is a nice change of pace from it looking so bad at short.
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.