Jun 15, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro (13) in the dugout during game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. The Cubs defeated the Phillies, 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Starlin Castro key to Chicago Cubs' recent resurgence


Last season, Cubs fans were calling for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to package Starlin Castro with the extra bag of baseballs and some stale Cracker Jacks in hopes of getting him dealt to another club. Most weren’t picky. They didn’t care which team he wound up with, as long as his days in Chicago were short-numbered.

Twelve months later and, oh, how the story has changed. Proving once again that Cubs fans will love a player only so long as he produces to their liking, the love of Castro is at an all-time high. And for good reason.

In 401 fewer plate appearances than he totaled in all of last season, the 24-year-old franchise cornerstone has already topped his home run total from 2013 and is one RBI from matching his total in 161 games last season in just 70-plus games in 2014.

Here’s a look at the two seasons side-by-side:

2013: 161 G, 705 PA, 10 HR, 44 RBI, .245/.284/.347

2014: 71 G, 304 PA, 11 HR, 43 RBI, .290/.332/.490

Across the board, the exciting young shortstop has improved by leaps and bounds from his disappointing 2013 campaign, quickly reverting back to his All-Star caliber play of 2011 and 2012. In the first of those two seasons, Castro totaled 207 base hits – leading many to see grandeur in the future for both the player and the organization.

Matt Snyder of CBS Sports took note of Castro’s bounce-back campaign in a recent piece and pointed out that he is on pace for a career year in 2014, despite being noticeably younger than most prospects in the league.

Speaking of that, it’s pretty easy to forget how young a player is when he was promoted to the majors at such a young age. In Castro’s case, he was just 20 when he joined the Cubs. He turned 24 this past March. For some perspective on that, take note of all the love George Springer of the Astros deservedly received during his hot streak last month — and then realize that Springer is actually older than Castro. Cubs rookie Mike Olt is another “youngster” who is older than the veteran Castro.

Castro could be headed toward his third Midseason Classic this year, and even if his pace slows in the second half of the season, he is amongst the elite in baseball history when you look at his ability to pound out base hits. Entering play Friday, he has 775 base knocks; something Snyder also pointed out in his piece.

Only 20 players in major-league history have had at least 850 hits through their age-24 seasons. Click here to see the list on baseball-reference.com’s play index tool, and it’s a list that includes names like Ty Cobb, Robin Yount, Al Kaline, Ken Griffey Jr., Jimmie Foxx, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Roberto Alomar and a few more Hall of Famers.

That leaves Castro roughly 90 ballgames to collect 75 hits – which at his current rate will be of little concern. Although Cubs fans eagerly feed their young shortstop to the wolves whenever he makes a mental error – something he admittedly still does from time-to-time. But at such a young age, it’s time we allow him a little flexibility when these things happen. He truly is a rare talent in the game today – something we all overlook more often than not.

He’s younger than many of the game’s ‘rising stars’ – Jean Segura, Andrelton Simmons Brad Miller and Adeiny Hechavarria – yet receives none of the national attention.

But here’s a news flash, Cubs fans. Starlin Castro is a key piece to this organization’s future.

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