In the Cactus League opener on Thursday, Starlin Castro went 2 for 2 with an RBI double. After struggling through a 2013 campaign that saw him post career-lows in batting average and on-base percentage (OBP), it was certainly refreshing for the soon to be 24-year-old to get a pair of clean base knocks. The Cubs starting shortstop seemed more comfortable at the plate, which seems to be the result of a clean slate that comes with a new year, along with new voices guiding him from the coaching staff.
The WGN television broadcast duo of Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies may have put it best when noting that maybe its best to let Castro be who he is. Deshaies wondered out loud that maybe the young shortstop and the team had tried to make Castro something he was not: a hitter that works deep counts. Castro smacked the first pitch he saw for a clean single through the hole past short and repeated his approach in his second at-bat, resulting in a two out RBI double. Sometimes hitting is a matter of simplification and it does not get more watered down than see the ball, hit the ball. One Spring Training game does not make a regular season’s worth of All Star like production at the plate, but Thursday’s showing was an immediate step in the right direction in forgetting all about last year.
Hopefully the approach of letting Castro be himself includes removing him from middle of the line up, run producing duties. While the former All Star selection hit in the three hole Thursday, statistics show that he is better suited for one of the first two slots in the order.
Even during his season long slump last year, Castro’s best work came from the top spots in the order, hitting over .260 and registering an OBP over .300 from each slot. In 2011 the numbers from those two slots were a robust .320 plus for batting average and a .370 OBP from the leadoff spot alone.
Now Castro has not necessarily been a disaster in the three spot or the fifth position in the batting order, as he has shown flashes of production from those slots as well. But part of the slump that occurred last year also seems to stem from an attempt to boost and develop his power numbers over just doing what he does best: hitting the ball where a defender is not.
The Cubs can fill their power needs from other spots on the field, starting with slugger Anthony Rizzo and right fielder Nate Schierholtz. In addition to that, Cubs fans are also well aware of the power potential coming up in the prospect ranks in the form of Kris Bryant and Javier Baez.
Regardless, look for Castro to settle back to what he is familiar with in the batter’s box. That will undoubtedly result in a return to a batting average climbing back towards .300 if not over and seeing his OBP get back to his career average of .322. Count Castro as one of several improvements the 2014 Cubs will boast over last year’s edition.