Last year, Starlin Castro was one of the most polarizing players on the Chicago Cubs’ roster. Many Cubs fans were calling for the aggressive shortstop’s head after a dismal 2013, while some took a level-headed approach and preached patience with the young-but-experienced two-time All-Star.
Castro, of course, suffered through the worst season of his career, posting an alarming .245/.284/.347 triple slash and never really seemed to be focused, or have his “head in the game” as he went through the season-long slump. In the first full year of his seven-year extension signed in the middle of 2012, it was not what Cubs fans needed to see in one of the rebuild`s building blocks.
This year has been an entirely different story, as Castro has hit .283 with a strikeout rate falling to just 13.2 percent, a major improvement over an 18.3 percent mark last season. While Castro has gone through a mini-slump in the month of May hitting just .174, the Cubs have seen a new Castro at the plate (or rather the old), working himself into hitters’ counts and driving pitches to all fields –regardless of the count.
Castro’s glovework has even seen an improvement as he owns a UZR, which values how many runs a players saves or costs a team, of 0.1 (league average is zero) and that should certainly be considered progress after posting a costing the Cubs about 3.3 runs last season, according to Fangraphs.
With Castro seemingly on his way back to his All-Star levels or pre-2013, it is fair to ask how will the Cubs now handle the glut of talented infield prospects? Many called for Castro to be dealt last season, but now with him performing to expectations, how will the Cubs field Javier Baez, Castro, Arismendy Alcantara, Kris Bryant and even Christian Villanueva at the same time? That’s not necessarily an easy answer.
The easiest answer could be to simply solve the surplus on the trade block. It could potentially make sense to deal from a surplus with a player like Alcantara or Villanueva to fetch an organizational need – top young pitching. The Cubs’ future infield appears to consist of untouchables in Baez, Bryant, Castro and Rizzo, while Mike Olt could also factor into future plans.
This leaves very little room for the 22-year-old Alcantara, who is considered a top 100 prospect by Baseball Prospectus at number 83 entering 2014, and possesses very solid upside. If the Cubs truly want Alcantara to stick, their best bet might be to expose him to the outfield this summer in Iowa, and possibly develop him into a super-utility, Ben Zobrist type.
If not, if Alcantara is indeed squeezed out of the picture thanks to Baez, Bryant and Castro, he could find himself somewhere else. Alcantara packaged with Dan Vogelbach, another very nice hitter with a questionable future in the Cubs organization, could reel in talented, young pitching the organization desperately needs to compete a couple years down the road.
This all should be considered unlikely until the Cubs truly start to feel the pressure, but it’s something that will need to be discussed at some point this summer.
The best course of action? In my opinion, just let performance dictate what happens. Let the prospects duke it out in the minors to see who sticks and who should be considered a major future asset. Baez is obviously struggling in Triple-A at .169/.250/.313 and Alcantara isn’t exactly displaying great patience with a .276/.295/.474 line and just four walks in 30 games, so there is definitely time to sit back and see what happens.
It’s way too early to consider dealing Alcantara or even Vogelbach, and legitimate considerations to do something about the “surplus” likely won’t be made until after this season, but the progress made at Triple-A from Baez and Alcantara is going to be something heavily analyzed this summer as the Cubs attempt to identify future building blocks. Any way you look at it, a surplus is always a very good problem to have.