By Bruce Levine–
WRIGLEY FIELD (CBS) — Starlin Castro has found his game and won’t be returning to the mediocre player that patrolled shortstop for the Cubs in 2013.
After a terrible season that messed with his own confidence the 24-year-old Dominican infielder has been the co- supporter of the Cubs offense with first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
Castro has put up the best numbers of any shortstop other than National League batting leader Troy Tulowitzki. On Wednesday, he drove in his team high 45th run in the fourth inning off of Reds starter Mat Latos.
A return to the All Star Game would be the validation that Castro has been looking for since signing a seven year $60 million contract in August of 2012, which runs through 2019 with a club option for 2020.
“It would mean everything for me to be an All Star this year,” Castro indicated to me Wednesday. “That was one of my biggest goals for this year, when I was working to get my game back.”
Castro reported to spring training in the best condition of his four year major league career. To say he was on a mission would be an understatement after hitting .245 in 2013.
“After a bad year last year I had to work hard and prove what kind of player I was again,” he said. “Last year was a good experience for me because I learned I needed to work hard to stay good. I am hoping to be picked as an All Star.”
The Cubs shortstop made the All Star team in his first two seasons. He said that his goal was to make the team every year, like his model for the position Derick Jeter.
That all began to go downhill in the middle of 2012. After signing the long term deal, Castro returned to form the last two months of 2012 only to watch his numbers and overall production sink to new lows last year.”
“The biggest reason I am better is maturity,” he said to the question on his improvement. I have a better feeling for who I am as a player and person. I am relaxed and don’t try to think too much about playing, just do it.”
The young leaders on the evolving Cubs team appear to be Jeff Samardzija, Anthony Rizzo and Castro. The Cubs shortstop has a different take on how leaders come about.
“My responsibility is to work hard and help my teammates be comfortable and relaxed,” he said. “You don’t say you are a leader. If you do the right things and be a great teammate those things just happen over time.”
Castro pointed to the way former teammate and mentor Alfonso Soriano led by example.
“Everybody loved that guy,” Castro said, about the man who took him into his own home when the 19-year-old shortstop was promoted to the major leagues in 2010. “He never said he was the leader. We all looked at him as a leader by the way he played and treated people. Leaders are like him the way they come in early, work hard and take care of the young teammates.”
The power game is also coming on strong for Castro, who already has more home runs in 76 games than he did in all of 2014.
“He is a young man that has the ability to put the bat on the ball and has strength,” said manager Rick Renteria. “He seems to be getting bigger. He is filing out and turning into a man with maturity and his body coming together. Will he hit a lot of home runs? It is possible.”
Castro passed his entire RBI output (44) for 2013, with the base hit in Wednesday’s game.