News out of Chicago is that Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro has re-upped for the next seven years with the North Siders, signing a seven-year extension worth $60 million, meaning the 22-year old is under contract with the team for the remainder of his 20s.
The Cubs did well to lock up one of the most talented up-and-comers at a position hard to fill, but Castro’s second full season in the majors has been anything but smooth sailing. Castro’s defense has been shaky, his mental gaffes have been well documented, and his plate discipline has been questioned. Lucky for us, the first two criticisms do very little harm to his fantasy value.
As a Cubs fan, I’ve followed Castro fairly closely this year, and I think he’s getting a bum rap in fantasy baseball circles. Sure, he isn’t hitting for more power and burning up the base paths like many had hoped, but he’s been as valuable as they come at a very weak position, and I think Castro has a real good chance to be fantasy’s No. 1 shortstop in 2013.
More on Castro’s aforementioned plate discipline troubles after the jump:
You’d expect a player coming off a 200-hit season to be in the conversation for a possible batting title, but Castro isn’t your typical 200-hit player. If Castro isn’t hitting his way on base, chances are he’s walking back to the dugout. His measly 4.8% walk rate is right in line with last year’s 4.9%, and he continues to swing at too many pitches outside the strike zone (38.9% vs. 33.1% last year).
This has all led to a 31-point drop in his batting average, down from .307 to .276. So, no, Castro isn’t likely to complete back-to-back 200-hit seasons, but that hasn’t stopped him from contributing top-10 returns in all the major counting categories at shortstop, and he should have no problem continuing that trend in the future.
Castro’s BABIP has never been as low as it’s been in 2012 (.308, down from .344 last year, and .346 in 2010). Even in the minors, Castro had a considerably high BABIP, peaking at .394 in 2010 before being called up by the big league club. Chances are Castro’s BABIP lies somewhere in between his 2011 and 2012 levels.
Take a look at Castro’s ranks at shortstop the past two seasons:
batting average: 6th this year, 2nd last
RBI: 1st, 7th
runs: 9th, 3rd
home runs: 9th, 11th
stolen bases: 4th, 9th
Now, are you still worried about his plate discipline and low BABIP?
Castro’s 12 home runs in 2012 are already a career high, and he’ll easily best last year’s 22 stolen bases and 66 RBIs with a full slate of September games ahead. The runs are down from 91 to 62, but a lot of that has to do with an inferior supporting cast, and the fact that Castro has batted in the middle of the Cubs lineup this year, opposed to the first two spots last year.
Now, 2011’s shortstops have far outperformed 2012’s. Last year, two shortstops hit 30 home runs (Troy Tulowitzki, J.J. Hardy), and two hit 20-plus (Asdrubal Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta), while this year, no shortstop has yet to hit over 19 (Ian Desmond). So it’s fair to question whether the rest of the group will come back up or not, but that doesn't affect Castro’s potential to get better.
No, Castro didn’t break out in 2012, but that doesn’t mean he won’t take the leap soon. He’s only 22 years old, and he has the talent to become one of the best offensive shortstops in the game. Per FanGraphs, only six other shortstops with a minimum of 1,000 plate appearances have accumulated a higher WAR before the age of 23, a list that includes Alex Rodriguez, Cal Ripkin, and Robin Yount.
Castro’s main competition at short next year remains Hanley Ramirez, Tulowitzki, and Jose Reyes. I fully expect Castro to be a top-three shortstop in 2013, and questions about Tulowitzki’s health and Ramirez’s mindset lead me to believe Castro is as safe as they come. I’d probably lean on another year of Reyes in redraft leagues, but I’m all over Castro in keeper formats.