When Starlin Castro broke into the big leagues in 2010 with the Chicago Cubs, the 20 year-old Dominican phenom was expected to be the starting shortstop at Wrigley Field for at least the next decade. Indeed, he became a three-time All-Star in the National League and had a team-friendly contract of $60 million in place through 2019.
All good in the Windy City, verdad? Well, not exactly.
Castro would eventually fall from the good graces of the Cubbies front office, criticized for mopey behavior and a lack of hustle. During the second half of last season, he was benched and ultimately bumped over to second base, losing the shortstop job to rookie Addison Russell. Then, when Chicago signed free agent Ben Zobrist this winter, Castro was sent packing to The Bronx in a blockbuster trade that has had Yankee fans buzzing.
There’s no question that the acquisition of Starlin Castro, now a second baseman, was controversial. It also meant losing highly regarded pitcher Adam Warren in the swap. That said, New York manager Joe Girardi finally has a reasonable impersonation of Robinson Cano he can pencil in at that position after two years of utter mediocrity.
“I think this is a great opportunity for me,” says Castro about playing in the Big Apple. “I feel really excited and really happy.”
Clearly, a change in scenery will give Castro a fresh start to flash his God-given talent. When a young player enjoys instant success and celebrity status like Starlin experienced in Chicago, the head starts to swirl and life becomes a fantasy. Alfonso Soriano was a respected veteran in the Cubs dugout who bonded with Castro like a big brother, keeping him focused and grounded. But when Soriano was traded for a second stint with the Yankees halfway through the 2013 campaign, the mentoring was over. And although Castro rebounded nicely in 2014, he often tried to do too much and had frequent mood swings. A lackluster start this past year and the “demotion” to second base seemed to shock the youngster back to reality, however, as he batted .353 while knocking in 23 runs and launching six bombs.
Many scouts feel like Castro’s surge at the plate was due to relaxing more on defense and simply going with the flow. He is extremely athletic with a rocket arm to turn the double play, both important assets in patrolling the right side of the diamond. Watching from afar, New York General Manager Brian Cashman remarked that Castro looked like a “different player” after the switch to second base, which prompted him to pull the trigger and make the deal.
Performing before 50,000 knowledgeable fans in Yankee Stadium will be dramatically different than the festive, forgiving atmosphere at Wrigley, and Castro will have to develop some thicker skin. The good news is that he will have plenty of help with the transition from Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran, a couple of Latinos in the mold of Soriano with a combined 39 years of major league service under their belts. Beltran, in particular, is a believer in his new teammate.
“Starlin is a great kid and a very important key for us,” notes the grizzled Puerto Rican with Cooperstown credentials. “With the veterans we have here, we’ll be on top of him.”
Castro and his new infield partner, shortstop Didi Gregorius, will both be only 26 with early birthdays next year, and just approaching prime productivity. This pair is scary good and will only make each other better. Plus, there shouldn’t be any attitude problems with Castro because he seems to appreciate the fact that one of the greatest teams in sports history requested his presence.
The motivation factor and a showcase setting is a perfect formula for Starlin Castro to thrive again. His game might not be on a par with Cano just yet, but the potential is there to make it happen.