Starlin Castro's All-Star appearance might do the budding star more harm than good (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
I missed most of the All-Star game Tuesday night. Having just returned from a long vacation with little television watched, it was hard to get entranced by a game that saw almost 11 percent of all the players in the majors invited.
But I did manage to find a seat to watch the last couple of innings, and Starlin Castro, the lone Cub player on the All-Star roster.
Yes, the second half is underway, so it seems a bit late to be quibbling over an All-Star game that is meaningless in the grand scheme of things.*
Yet this is more about what a game like this can do to a player like Castro rather than a rant about the game.
Sure the young short stop earned the chance to show off his speed, something that he is rarely able to do when playing for his actual team. The Cubs need every runner they can muster, so giving Castro the green light is a dicey proposition even if he probably would be successful more than 75 percent of the time.
And Castro earned the opportunity to show all baseball fans what the Cubs fans already knew: he needs to work on his fielding.
Castroâ€™s error in the ninth inning ended up not mattering in the grand scheme of things. The National League still won the game, and the Phillies/Braves/Giants will enjoy playing at home in game one of the World Series.
The error does highlight that maybe Castro isn’t ready for this kind of stage.
It’s not that he isn’t a major league quality player. He has shown enough with his bat to disprove any thoughts like that.
Castro is a star in the making; the problem being that he is not a star yet.
Yes, on the Cubs, he is that star, but mostly because the Cubs lack other personalities to get excited about. The veterans on the team are past exciting the crowd. Most of the young players have failed to deliver on the promise that they once had.
Only Geovany Soto behind the plate offers Cubs fans a real reason to be hopeful about a player in the lineup beyond next season.***
Castro is being forced to mature at the big league level. He has the raw talent to succeed, but he hasn’t yet refined his game to where his name would be at the top of everyoneâ€™s list for one of the best players in the league.
Yes, he was drafted as part of the Franchise Draft on ESPN. But that is also based on his raw talent and potential.
The Cubs organization though has shown little ability to mold that talent or potential into a player that is a true force to be reckoned with.
At some point, Castroâ€™s free-swinging style is not going to be the best thing for the Cubs. He may never take walks at the rate he should, but he also limits his ability to be a true quality hitter at the plate by rarely taking pitches.
Perhaps it is a team style issue. The Cubs need as much contact as possible, because walking just isn’t going to help them score runs.
He is swinging away because the patient hitter isn’t going to thrive in the Cubs lineup. Contact matters, gap power matters, speed matters.
Walks, not so much.
Can Rudy Jaramillo change Castro? Probably not overnight. It would help if some of the more adverse role models for hitting were gone from the team (like Alfonso Soriano).
But it can change over time. It took Rod Carew almost four full seasons before he changed his plate discipline in a way that made him one of the best hitters in baseball for more than a decade.
The real question will be if the Cubs can wait until Castro is 25 for the change to occur, although they probably donâ€™t have a choice.
The other issue is Castroâ€™s fielding, which continues to haunt him and came to light in the All-Star game.
There is no telling exactly how many errors that Carlos Pena has saved Castro from this season, or how many other mistakes have not been marked in the official book as errors.
As it stands, Castro leads the National League in errors with 18, and if it weren’t for Baltimoreâ€™s insistence to play Mark Reynolds, he would lead the Majors in the category.
He is costing his team runs in the field, and it isn’t getting any better.
Castro does reach balls that most short stops are not going to put a glove on, but it is what he does with the ball once he handles it that is the concern. In some ways, this is a mental issue of knowing the situation and what to do with the ball as much as it is a physical one in terms of accuracy in his throws.
Which is why having Castro as the Cubs rep in the All-Star game might not have been the best thing in the world for him or the team.
He is still a young player, one who needs quite a bit of fine-tuning to be ready to handle the â€śstarâ€ť label that is being forced upon him.
Having him elevated on a pedestal this early in his career could have damaging effects on any efforts to help correct the holes in his game later on.
Sure there is the benefit of having Castro sit in the dugout with the games greats and get a little extra coaching from some players who have been through what he is going through (and getting him away from Soriano and Ramirez).****
But the worry still has to be there that this will make the coaching process that has to occur with Castro (and need we add, all of the Cubs prospects) that much harder.
One day, Castro should headline this game for the National League, alongside Andrew McCutchen, Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. He should be that good.
That day though is still years away.
*Bud Selig would like you to believe that this game counts and the mainstream media keeps serving as the megaphone for this nonsense. Since 1990, the World Series has gone seven games exactly four times, or 20 percent of the time. Since 2003, when this game started to count, there have been no seven game series, and just two that have gone six games. Only the 2003 series even looked in danger of needing the all-important seventh game. Add in that baseball has the worst home-field â€śadvantageâ€ť in all of the major sports and you can see why this farce of making the All-Star game count for anything is just sad. Now that Selig is retiring, perhaps his successor can end the charade that this game is anymore than a glorified exhibition that rarely has any drama, let alone star power participating.**
** Man, reading that is harsh, and I really like the All-Star game.
*** And even Soto might be gone. There is speculation he could be moved thanks to positional depth in the system. It might be a bit early for the Cubs to make that switch, but then again, it isnâ€™t like they are going anywhere this year, or next.
**** Yes, this makes out the two vets as demons in the locker room, but tell me their lackadaisical play at times hasnâ€™t rubbed off at least a little on Castro. The last thing the Cubs need is a Hanley Ramirez-type attitude from their best player.