By Bruce Levine-
(CBS) The first month of the baseball season wasn’t kind to the Cubs, who are on a 100-loss pace in 2014. The good news is that some of the young players of the present and the future are off to a good start. For example, looking at shortstop Starlin Castro as a success so far should be a feel-good story for both the fan base and front office.
Castro became the whipping boy of the media in 2013. He had his worst season since arriving on the scene four years ago this month. An All-Star in 2011 and 2012, Castro had a big contract and a hesitant approach to taking more pitches, which caused a perfect storm of below-average production from the 24-year-old infielder.
After a rededicated offseason of training and better eating habits, Castro has been on a mission to prove once again he is among the elite young players in the major leagues. Entering the Cubs’ first game of May this afternoon, he’s hitting .308 and was the team leader in RBIs with 14.
“What you need to do is work,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “He has been very relaxed. We have worked well with him. Give him credit because he is the one getting out there. He has been here a few years, but he is still learning how to play the game.”
New hitting coach Bill Mueller has helped establish an interesting new atmosphere to work in. The experiment of the previous hitting group — having Castro take more pitches — was shelved in August 2013. That was too late to salvage a decent season for the shortstop.
In fairness to former manager Dale Sveum and the hitting coaches, upper management was firmly behind the restructuring of Castro with a leg kick and going deeper into counts. The philosophy was based on solid principals of hitting. In the case of Castro, it was the wrong approach for a free-swinging hitter who was hitting a lifetime .300 after his first three seasons in the big leagues.
Renteria was mandated by his bosses to find a direct stream of communication with Castro and the rest of the young group of Cub players on the roster.
“Rickey has been a difference,” Castro said. “Not only for me but for all the players. Mueller and (assistant hitting coach Mike) Brumley have been great. They let let you play and help remind you of some of the little things we did in spring training. We work in the cage but they have just let me play.”
General manager Jed Hoyer is pleased with the progress of the team’s young players.
“It is nice to have different voices,” Hoyer said about the supporting staff around Castro and his teammates. “When a player has a bad year, things spiral for them. I think the beauty of the game is a we get to hit the reset button every September or October.”
Since moving into the cleanup spot on April 25, a stretch of five games, Castro is hitting .450 with two homers and two doubles to go along with five RBIs.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.