By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) In this fait accompli season, all of Cubdom is fixated on trade talk at the moment. (Though who had the Royal Baby coming into the world before Matt Garza being shipped somewhere?) What young pieces that will be part of the future will Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein get in return for veteran rentals is the carrot that keeps fans enduring the subpar now and looking ahead with hope to brighter days.
Overshadowed by all that is the gradual bounceback of another presumed big piece of the Cubs future—Starlin Castro. His first half of the season was monumentally awful. There was maybe no more disappointing player in baseball fantasywise (as of June 28 only three shortstops with 200+ plate appearances had a worse weighted on-base average). He was even compared to Ronny Cedeno, for goodness sake. But lately there has been a bit of hope that Castro isn’t permanently digressing and etching his name in the big steaming pile of next great Cubs that includes the likes of Felix Pie and Kosuke Fukudome.
Castro tied a career high with four hits in a 4-3 loss to the Colorado Rockies on Sunday, and he’s hitting at a .311 clip since June 26 and 13 for his last 30. His on-base-plus-slugging has improved in those four weeks from a horrifying .585 to a mere icky .637, and his offensive wins above replacement is finally in the positive at 0.4. These numbers aren’t ones to necessarily make a fan believe Castro is completely out of the woods, but they are encouraging.
A new approach at the plate is supposedly responsible for the change. Manager Dale Sveum and hitting coaches James Rowson and Rob Deer (admit that you didn’t know those were the team’s hitting coaches) have worked with the shortstop to get him to keep his weight back in order to catch up to fastballs that had been giving Castro so many headaches.
“I am looking for the fastball every time now,” Castro said. “I was late to the fastball and now I am adjusting to looking for fastballs. You can’t hit a good slider (anyway), you can only hit a hanging slider. If you are looking for a fastball you can hit it.”
It’s good that Castro seems positive about the new approach because there were some fans ready to give up on the 23 year old, especially after Sveum benched him for the first time in 269 games in late June, snapping Castro’s then National League leading consecutive games played streak. As the game of baseball is wont to do it seems, that benching also marks the turning point in Castro’s hitting.
It also marks what appears to be an end to some of the airheadedness Castro was labeled with having. What jumps out and gives credence to old baseball souls who equate positives and negatives at the plate with those in the field is that since being sat down the guy who has a reputation for going out to lunch while his glove is on has only made one error.
While it seemed at one point that maybe the manager’s faith in the spacey shortstop was cracking, the general manager’s was not. “He’s just in a slump right now,” Hoyer said in early June when Castro looked really hopeless. “He’s not a guy that we really worry about. He’s such an unbelievably gifted hitter. I’m pretty confident that he’s gonna have a .350-.400 batting average month and he’ll even out his stats a bit. He is 23 years old. Sometimes we forget how young he is because he was up in the big leagues at 20. I think he does need to improve his plate discipline over time. I think he will. I think he’s going to grow into a lot more power. I think Starlin’s a big part of our future and he’ll figure out the on-base thing.”
Hoyer needed to be positive about Castro since he signed him to a seven-year, $60 million deal last August after two All-Star appearances and 390 hits in 2011 and 2012 combined. That would lead one to believe that The Dictator, as I dubbed him a ways back, is part of the grand plan “Epstoyer” has Cubs fans hanging on.
And if recent weeks are more an indicator of the norm and the first three months of the 2013 season are more the fluke, it would seem the front office’s positivity was warranted.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa and Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @Ten_Foot_Midget, but please don’t follow him in real life. E-mail him at email@example.com. To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.