Cubs and I Are Wishing on a Starlin

Starlin Castro has soared through the minor league ranks; is he ready to stretch his wings at the major league level? Photo by Amandy Rykoff (who has an amazing collection on flickr that I recommend you devote an hour or two to perusing)
I trust you’ve heard, read, talked, or written about 19-year-old Starlin Castro’s arrival at Spring Training and his potential for being a legitimate force at shortstop in the not-so-distant future. How distant (and how legitimate) is still pretty fuzzy. Lou thinks he looks a little Renteria-ish and could even fill in right away for an injured Ryan Theriot if the need presented itself.
But I’m sure you haven’t forgotten how the previous installments of this film series turned out. Corey Patterson. Felix Pie. The Hills both Rich and Bobby. We know the gap between highly touted prospect and holy-crap-is-this-guy-for-real All-Star vote getter is a deep and treacherous canyon through which the river of our disappointment flows freely. So how do we know what to expect? I ask because I don’t like getting burned by failed expectations any more than you do. So should I risk the excitement or just dismiss this kid until he proves me wrong?
But the truth is, we don’t know. We can listen to the scouting reports, but you can usually find a scout who will support whichever conclusion you’re predisposed to believe. You can look to the minor league stats, which Bill James says are just as trustworthy as major league stats for their predictive powers. There’s an interesting discussion in the comments at this Castro post at ACB about Castro’s stats, what they tell us, how different experts interpret them, and what we should believe. (Indulge your curiosity and read through the comments, because there’s great food for thought there.)
If you lack faith in the prophetic powers of stats, you can always just watch Castro play this spring and judge for yourself. I know I can’t wait. But I do want to call your attention to just one thing: the kid is 19. Nineteen year olds are, as a group, not entirely dependable. They’re just unpredictable creatures, those teenagers. As baseball players, the rate of development is pretty drastic. As people . . . same thing.
The reliability of the scouting reports is at the mercy of Castro’s youth. They can be impressed by a kid’s “makeup,” but they can’t know if he can handle the challenge of major league baseball in Chicago or anywhere else. And while I do agree that minor league stats can tell us a lot, I think they’re really shaky when it comes to teenagers. Let me give you a non-saber stat line for a 19-year-old shortstop who played a full season at the A level:
Player X: 128 Games, 71 RBI, 5 HR, .295 BA, .376 OBP, .394 SLG, 56 Errors
The hitting looks decent, the error total is atrocious, and the overall product doesn’t exactly scream future MVP. Keep in mind, these are single-A numbers we’re talking about. Here’s Castro’s line from A+ Daytona and AA Tennessee:
Castro: 127 Games, 49 RBI, 3 HR, .299 BA, .342 OBP, .392 SLG, 39 Errors
I’d call those numbers comparable, no? Neither guy jumps out at you, and the defense suggests both players are actually Jake Fox. But Player X is actually a 19-year-old Derek Jeter.
Now, I know that these stats aren’t the best predictors of future performance, but if you’re familiar with the ones that are, you have already looked at Castro’s. I’m not saying we should expect or even hope Castro will look like the guy who wears the #2 on his Yankee jersey. I can’t even guarantee he’ll be good enough to replace the guy who wears the #2 on his Cub jersey. 
But I will say that Starlin Castro is only going to get better. Stupid as I’m inclined to be, I’m expecting good things from the kid if he can impress Sweet Lou and ascend through the minors so quickly. I’ll be watching with great interest when he plays semi-real games this spring, and something tells me I’ll be easily impressed.
Consider my hopes officially raised.

18 Replies to “Cubs and I Are Wishing on a Starlin”

  1. Very few people come in Doc Gooden-ing. Or even Pryor-ing. I think I care less about what expectations do to me and more what they do to the player. I think the Marmols and the Samardzijas of the world show what kind of pressure unfair expectations can put on a player, especially when that player comes in with a rush of excitement. In the end, it's much better for fans and players to temper their expectations of each other and themselves until they've got some history in the league. We'll field far less stars in MLB as time goes on if we as fans have a "what are you doing for me now" mentality with these young guys. Because we'll ruin these players before they've had a shot.

    In the end, it doesn't serve the fans well to get too excited. What we see in the "now" is very little of a predictor of what a future holds. Like you said, Jeter basically petered as a young dude, but he's a Hall of Famer. On the other hand, Pryor and Gooden were dynamite out of the gate, but after a few seasons succumbed to injuries/being a pussy and drugs, respectively.

    Just let it ride, Cubs fans…

  2. I'm not keen on 19 year-olds being brought into the majors, primarily because of the maturity factor. There is tremendous pressure on even the most mature coming in, and with youth this can lead to not only failing to perform on the field, but trouble off the field (Doc Gooden is an example).

    My opinion is, let him mature as a young man and ballplayer at the lower levels, and he would have a better chance of success in the majors.

  3. Thanks for the comment, Michael, and I see your point. But I do think we tend to blame fan/media/team expectations too much for a player's failure. I generally think if a guy like Pie fails, it's because professional baseball is hard more than because of any pressure he felt from the fans. Gooden is a great example, though, of how more than just baseball plays into it, especially with a kid as young as he was when he made it big.

    On Prior, though, I disagree with the notion that Prior just wasn't tough enough. He was injured, yes. And if he turned into the type of guy who just wouldn't fight through nagging injuries, that would be one thing. But his injuries required multiple surgeries, and he hasn't pitched a game in over 3 years. To me, that erases the doubts over his toughness. His arm has just been destroyed, and he keeps working hard to make it back.

  4. I tend to agree with you, Jen. Maturity off the field is a big issue. Another part of me wonders how much more valuable his baseball development would be if it took place in the majors, but I'm sure that fails more often than it works. Whenever it happens, I think this kid is gonna be special, not just because he shows the potential, but because he shows progress. Fingers crossed.

  5. He would complete his development in the majors anyway, no matter how many years he spends in the minors. ๐Ÿ™‚ But at least in the minors he will be coached by many who have played in the majors, and can better prepare him for what he willl face at that level. From what I have read, Starlin has made great strides at each level he has competed at so far, and hopefully will continue to improve. I would rather see him get some work in at the AAA level with Ryno before graduating to the majors.

    It sounds like this kid is a great defensive prospect, which I would love to see. In some ways he sounds to me like a Shawon Dunston, including the fact that along with his range, he also commits a good number of errors. ๐Ÿ™‚ But hopefully with more experience he will work those kinks out as well.

  6. I'm being a complete idiot here…but I'm not going to be sold on his defense until I see him play in a game or two. It sounds like the kid has a good arm…I'm interested in how well he moves to the ball and how quick he gets the ball away.

    Errors are hard to judge until a player gets to AAA…the quality of the fields in the lower minor leagues is inconsistent. It would be interesting to find out how many of the 39 errors he had last year were from trying to field the ball…and how many were throwing errors.

  7. Good points, and I'm anxious to see him in action personally. As for types of errors, I haven't a clue. Tried to find something, but nothing shows types of errors from the sites I reviewed. His defensive numbers seem to be improving, so that should be a positive sign.

  8. I don't think I mean that fans put the same weight on all young players. I guess I'm just really talking about Cubs players. Does anyone really have the pressure on them that a Cubs youngster does? Sure, media is big in NY and Boston, those teams have achieved something in recent years. This is the Cubs we're talking about. EVERY new guy has EVERY hope pinned on him EVERY time he steps on the field. The weight of a 100 years of failure is dangling on each of their necks. Every/any error could turn you into a Bartman. I just don't think the pressure compares. There's pressure, and then there's Cubs pressure. If it's so blatantly obvious with veterans each year, I can only imagine what it's like to all the green newbies that get cycled in and out of that place.

    I don't think Prior is a pussy because he was injured, either. I think he's a pussy for the reason you stated: he never showed a huge interest in fighting through ANYTHING. You could look at the fact he hasn't played in 3 years as evidence of terrible injuries, or you could look at as evidence of the fact that he doesn't want to do what it takes. I guess we'll never really know either way…but I don't remember a whole lot of people coming to bat for him and saying he was a grinder. And if that was true, more teammates would be willing to say it…

  9. I really don't think that Cubs pressure shows up until they make the playoffs. Other than that, they just have been unlucky and played poorly. But in the postseason, the list of pressure-induced meltdowns is well documented.

    And we just disagree on Prior. When an injury requires shoulder surgery (and he's had two) it's not something you fight through and pitch anyway. He was out for awhile in 2003 after the baserunning collision with Marcus Giles (shoulder) and missed three starts . . . and still won 18 games. If that's weakness, I'll take it. Then he missed time in consecutive preseasons (PREseasons) with an Achilles injury (you don't fight through that, either) and two weeks with an elbow strain (in the PREseason). Later that second season he took a line drive to the throwing elbow. That's not a wuss move, that's a freak accident that would put any pitcher out of commission. He missed a month. Then 2006 turned into an injury fest. Shoulder. Oblique. Shoulder tendinitis. Surgery. Another torn capsule in his pitching shoulder in 2008 after a year of recovery, and he needed another surgery.

    I'm curious how he tore a capsule in his pitching shoulder by not trying to work himself back into playing shape. No one came to bat for him because no one had to. No one ever in the history of sport has felt the need to defend someone for getting surgery to repair injuries. It requires no defense. We do know the accusations of him being soft are ridiculous. It's fact.

  10. Yeah, I think his early 2000s were still part of the coming in smoking years I referenced. I don't put much stock in preseason injuries because everybody babies themselves, for the most part. I seem to remember several of his 2006 injuries, though, not actually appearing all that serious on MRIs, especially the shoulder one, and that one ended up making him miss several times as much time than everyone expected. I dunno, as a pitcher I just don't have much respect for people who claim "shoulder pain". That's life. Sure, maybe he had later injuries that were more severe and caused more surgeries and legitimate time-missing. But it seem like every year we were told that he would be fine if he worked on his arm conditioning, and every year he had a problem. So maybe in my mind it was part inability to push through some pain, and part the Zambrano (but truthfully, many pitchers) problem of just not keeping your body in good enough shape after spending most of your youth trusting generally just on your talent alone.

    And I didn't say he needed to be defended for surgeries. I meant "grinder" in a play through pain way. Obviously this last year or two his arm was just crap. But in the past he's had some common injuries that don't cause people to miss time like he did. I agree I've never heard people "defending" a surgery, but I have heard teammates defend players who are injured and rehabbing/sitting-out from criticisms that they're dogging it or not working hard enough. I guess your point could be that in Prior's case, no one said anything because they didn't feel the need to defend what they didn't think existed. On the other hand, it could also be that they didn't need to speak out about something that appeared obvious.

    However, I don't agree with the assumption that just because he's had legitimate injuries that all of a sudden all accusations of softness are ridiculous. That would require a logic that says if you've been injured, you can't be soft. You can quite easily be soft regardless of how inhibiting or uninihibiting your injuries are. The other side of that coin is quite different, however. You can only avoid wussy status if you're sidelined by something inhibiting.

    In the end, I guess it's more likely that you're right because it's just more likely that he had inhibiting injuries than not, especially for his position. Still, statistically speaking, it's also more likely that the more injuries you have, the greater the possibility it is that some of them are uninhibiting. And it seems just a tad possible in my mind that a Cubs golden-boy felt a lot of pressure to perform, had some injuries throughout his career, and therefore whenever something was remotely tweaked, he felt the need to baby it. But no way to know. I guess we can give him the benefit of the doubt since his arm is laying severed on a mound somewhere at this point…Dravecky style…:)

  11. As an aside (or should I say, on the actual point of Castro, since I've taken you so far away from it now), did you hear any of the Rudy Jaramillo interview on ESPN this morning? He didn't say much about Castro other than that he was impressed with him. Although listening to him pronounce Fukudome and Theriot was pretty fun!

  12. I see what you're saying, though I think Steve Stone was to blame for a lot of the "Mark Prior is soft" discussion. He perpetuated that even after he left the booth, and I'm just saying that in retrospect, when you look at the nature of his injuries and his performance despite them, Prior was actually pretty tough. 2006 was the main year that looked really bad, but I just think the damage revealed after that season and in subsequent years shows he was more hurt than people gave him credit for. Also, his throwing mechanics have been shown to be more stressful to the shoulder than people originally believed. That was part of it. People thought his mechanics were so easy, smooth, and flawless, any injury was just him being a wuss. Turned out, it just wasn't the case.

  13. What are your thoughts on Cubs pitching scouts? I don't want to generalize and say that power pitcher brought up to the big dance tend to have bad mechanics, because Wood and Prior aren't enough to be a "most". But do see the injury issues and how they've affected the team as a) bad luck, b) the fault of scouts and lower level coaches for not seeing or diagnosing it, or c) the fault of major league pitching coaches for not seeing mechanics as a big enough issue, or d) the fault of the player for either thinking they're too good to change (or else afraid to change after years of one style).

    And you can't say ALL. ๐Ÿ™‚ Have to pick one as the greatest contributing factor. Go.

  14. I'd put the blame on e) pitching is by nature an injurious exercise and one that is very difficult with which to tinker. Changing a guy's mechanics could hurt his stuff, hurt him, or both. And identifying a guy with bad mechanics is, in my estimation, probably almost as simple as watching the radar gun. I have no expertise whatsoever to base this on, but I'm guessing that some of the things that make a pitcher's mechanics dangerous just might be some of the things that make his stuff nasty.

    That said, allow me to point you to a couple of posts at Beyond the Boxscore (h/t to ACB) about the facts regarding Cubs and injuries. This one shows how much money the Cubs have lost to DL stints (and compares that to other teams): http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2010/2/19/1318203/2010/2/19/1318203/percentage-of-team-payroll-lost-to

    This one tracks the damage done in wins: http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2010/2/21/1319936/how-many-wins-did-teams-lose-to

    The years are 2002-2009, and you might be interested to know that the White Sox have had an outstanding track record. But it's also interesting that the Cubs have an above-average history in that span as well. I think the simple fact that the Cubs lost two legitimate Cy-Young candidates to major injuries makes the problem seem worse than it is. Because if the Cubs had Wood, Prior, and Zambrano all healthy for the past decade, holy mother of crap, this team would have been quite a bit better. But I think those guys are more in the freak occurrence category than they are trend setters.

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