Starlin Castro is the kind of baseball player that inspires introspection.
At just 6'1", 160 pounds, his wiry frame doesn't belay the fleet footed fielding he's renowned for or the quick and powerful wrists that have made him a force at all levels of his professional career.
He could be you or me.
Yet, Castro is anything but. At the green age of 19, he's one of 2009 Minor League Baseball's biggest and brightest breakout stars. There's murmurs among the Bleacher Bums that it's he, not heralded prospect Josh Vitters, who should sit atop the Chicago Cub's organizational rankings.
And with such an underdeveloped physique and incomparable successes against much older talent, it's an entirely fair assessment.
Castro's 2008 campaign with the Arizona League Cubs foreshadowed much stronger, more sustained accomplishments to come.
At 18-years-old, the righthanded shortstop/second baseman performed admirably in 50 games with the short-season club. His above-average range, soft hands, and solid arm sparkled and he posted a .953 fielding percentage between his two primary positions, a good mark for someone in his first year of professional play. His 19 extra-base hits in 196 at-bats belied an untapped power stroke and his .311 average effectively supplanted him over the Cub's other infield talents Junior Lake and Ryan Flaherty.
In 2009, any suspicions the Cub's organization may have had about Castro's talent dissolved.
Hoping for glance into Castro's potential, the Cub's scouting team pushed for Castro to start at high Class A, not low Class A Peoria or Boise. And so he went to high Class A Daytona in the Florida State League, where, true-to-form, he hit. 302 with three homeruns and 12 doubles in 96 games.
In the Florida State League All-Star Game, he went 4-for-4 with an inside-the-park homerun.
He jumped to Double A Tennessee in the Southern League and once again, it was same result, different place.
Where a 19-year-old should have batted around .250, Castro hit .288. His on-base and slugging percentages ticked up a notch. Playing at a premier position, Castro's coaches and teammates praised his instinctual fielding and acrobatic range. According to Cub's 2008 first-round pick and 3rd ranked prospect in Baseball America, pitcher Andrew Cashner:
"He saved me a lot this past season. He made some special plays out there. I think it's more instincts for him. Everything is very natural."
But it's his performance in the Arizona Fall League that has solidified Castro as the bonafide No. 1 or No. 2 prospect in the Chicago organization.
He's the youngest player in the league, but his .424 mark is 10 points higher than Cleveland Indian's 24-year-old catching prospect Matt McBride. His .981 on-base plus slugging percentage and 35 total bases are among the top 15 of the league's leaders. In the 2009 Rising Stars Showcase, the "finishing school" for MLB prospects, Castro went 2-for-3 with a run scored.
Scouts immediately began the comparisons, ranging from Alfonso Soriano to Edgar Renteria.
Naturally, Castro's success has led to speculation about the timetable for his appearance in an MLB uniform . The common answer (both from sources within the organization and from Castro himself) is becoming increasingly clear: 2010.
For Cub's fans, the prospect of starting the minor league star's arbitration clock this early is daunting, especially when one considers the team's aggressive and marred track record promoting "super prospects" that didn't pan out (read: Corey Patterson, Hee Seop Choi and Bobby Hill).
The best solution for Chicago would be giving Castro half a year's at-bats in Triple A, and relevant to his progress, then making the decision to call him up mid-season or in September. This would postpone arbitration for another year, as the Orioles did with Matt Wieters in 2009, and would give him more at-bats versus tougher opponents.
It would also be remiss for the Cubs to discard Castro's current lack of true power and patience at the plate. And despite his flash in the field, Castro still has trouble turning routine defensive plays, committing 56 errors in his three seasons.
Following his 2009 campaign, Castro's revised scouting report should be eerily reminiscent to Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus' in 2009, a comparison which will only further Cubs follower's intrigue.
According to Baseball America , Andrus had:
"Plus range, sure hands, a strong, accurate arm and uncanny instincts. Andrus never will have better than below-average power, but he should be able to drive balls to the gaps if he can get stronger and understand his swing better. He profiles as an all-star caliber shortstop in the Edgar Renteria mold."
Disclaimer : It should be noted that Andrus had nearly twice as many professional at-bats as Castro currently has upon his call up to the big league club at the beginning of 2009.
Still, the now-Rookie of the Year candidate never played above Double A, showed tremendously similar power numbers, and committed just as many errors.
Andrus never hit as well as Castro at any point in his career. In his four professional seasons, Andrus posted batting averages of .293, .265, .267, and .295.
Yet Andrus has shown that he can be an impact player at the Major League level. For Cub's fans and the team's management alike, promoting Castro might be a temptation too grand to pass up.
This article can originally be found at Blogging About Baseball .
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