To say Starlin Castro was a disappointment last year is an amazing understatement. Castro came into 2013 ranked as a top 5 shortstop but finished 22nd on ESPN's Player Rater at the position. Just about every aspect of his game declined and he failed to make even the top 15-20 in some in-season rankings. So what went wrong? How can a player who showed so much promise for 2 ½ years suddenly fall on his face?
Castro was dealing with a lot of issues last year on and off the field. During the offseason, Castro had $3.6 million seized from several of his bank accounts to pay a coach at his former Dominican training academy. A change in hitting coach midway through 2012 as well as a change in hitting philosophy that came from the top down with Theo and the gang had Castro changing his approach. The organization stressed "selective aggressiveness" and preached working counts, seeing pitches and getting on base. Castro's defense also took a turn for the worse as he led the position with 22 errors and was benched in April for "not paying attention".
The Cubs fired manager Dale Sveum and hired Rick Renteria to replace him for 2014. Renteria, who is a former big leaguer, was signed because of his ability to communicate with players of different ages, languages and backgrounds in addition to his positive nature and reputation for getting the most out of players. Many believe Renteria was brought in to specifically help the young Latin players in the organization and because he has some familiarity with Anthony Rizzo from their days together in San Diego. Renteria and his staff that includes Bill Mueller and Eric Hinske will work to help the Cubs hitters with the philosophy that team leadership has brought with them from the Red Sox.
It remains to be seen how Castro will handle this "new" approach this year or if the Cubs are pushing it as much given the results from last season. Epstein was quoted in a CSN Chicago article as saying "Not every player gets there right away or not every player hits right away. So we have to make sure that we teach it in a way that allows players to be themselves, that allows aggressiveness to carry players for whom aggressiveness in the count is important." Last year, Castro swung at fewer first pitches and did work deeper into counts. However, this led to an increase in strike rate and a decrease in walk rate for the young hitter. He swung at fewer pitches and saw more pitches than he had in previous years but he got behind in the count often and was not able to recover.
Castro's struggles with the new approach led to career lows across the board. He posted a slash line of .245/.284/.347, failed to steal at least 20 bases for the first time in a full season and his isolated power fell 45 points. Despite a LD% just a shade under 20% and increase in GB%, Castro's BABIP dropped 25 points. 10 home runs matches his total from 2012 but many analysts we expecting Castro's power to take another step forward and saw him as a potential 20/20 candidate. Maybe more disconcerting than the total number of bases Castro stole is the fact that he was caught in 6 of 15 attempts. While he wasn't an extremely acute base stealer last season, it seems to me like an attempt to compensate for his struggles at the plate and in the field and to make something happen.
Castro's stock plummeted during 2013 and a stronger than usual shortstop class is holding it down in early drafts. I don't expect Castro to regain complete 2012 form and take the step forward that so many of us were expecting. I do expect Castro to adapt a little better to the ideas of the coaching staff and front office. I believe in Castro being a good bet for a solid return on investment given where he is being drafted. A .275 hitter with 12-15 home runs and 20 stolen bases will definitely return a positive value and that's about what I expect from Castro this season.
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