Chicago Sun-Times
with sports reporters Chris De Luca and Gordon Wittenmyer

Can Cubs' Castro play Theoball?

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Can Starlin Castro develop into the kind of hitter that even begins to approximate the ``selective aggressiveness'' that the Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer front office wants to make and organizational hallmark the way they did in Boston?

That's at least debatable. But Epstein said he believes that the increasing power he anticipates from Castro will indirectly push that process in the coming years.

Meanwhile, the most important indicator might be Castro himself. The 22-year-old shortstop with the innate ability to hit almost any pitch almost anywhere his bat can reach says he's confident he can be a much better, more selective hitter than he is.

``I can be better than I am right now, with a little more experience, a little more patience at the plate,'' he said, recognizing the shortcoming before it could specifically be raised. ``When I [improve at] not swinging at bad pitches.''

Castro has only six walks in 298 plate appearances. That's just .02 BB/PA - worst in the majors for qualifying hitters. And only six National League qualifiers see fewer pitches (3.51 per PA).

Even Castro sees that as an issue, despite his ability to make good contact even on pitches out of the strike zone.

``You can hit bad pitches, but you're going to swing at pitcher's pitches,'' he said. ``But if you can eliminate that, you can swing at better pitches.''

Sounds at least like he's listening to his manager and coaches.

Those who have seen Castro since he was a teenage rookie-ball player say just keep watching.

``I think if you want him to do something, he's so talented that if he worked at anything, he'd be good at it,'' said teammate Tony Campana, who was a rookie-ball teammate, too. ``If you wanted him to sit there and take pitches and hit with two strikes, he could do it.

``I think he's just so competitive, it's, `Well, whatever the pitcher throws up there, I can hit it anyway, so I'm going to hit it, whether it's [early in the count or not] - and he does. He's the most unbelievable person I've ever seen at getting the barrel to the ball, no matter where the pitch is, whether it's in the dirt, or over his head or right down the middle.''

That's the part that has had scouts and instructors drooling over his potential for years - and that still informs the Cubs' visions of Castro in his prime.

``With any 22 year old,'' team president Epstein said, ``I think it's time to step back and look at the age and understand ... close your eyes and think, `What's this guy going to be like when he's 27?' ''

For starters, he should be hitting more home runs as a natural progression of his career, given his size and early indications.

Another notorious bad-ball hitter from another generation, Kirby Puckett, was a .296 hitter his rookie season but walked only 16 times and hit no homers in 583 plate appearances. Two years later, he had 31 home runs, and 41 walks, with a .328 average and .366 on-base percentage.

He never came close to leading the league in walks or getting confused with a ``grind-at-bats'' guy. But he learned the pitchers in the league well enough and was comfortable and confident enough in his ability to hit in any count, that he often got his pitch to hit - especially in big spots -- by setting up pitchers early in counts or in early-game at-bats.

That's something to consider before dismissing Castro for being undisciplined - something to consider when looking at his rare hitting ability at this young age, this early in his big-league career.

``There's a lot of different ways to get it done offensively in the big leagues,'' Epstein said. ``We're not asking all our hitters to be cookie-cutter hitters and do it the same way.''

And for his part, Castro isn't waiting for next year or his next hitting coach -- or next week -- to work on his shortcomings.

``The game is not only one month or two months,'' he said. ``We've got [93] games left this season.''

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This page contains a single entry by Gordon Wittenmyer published on June 22, 2012 2:18 PM.

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