Starlin Castro is not yet a 20-year-old. He stands six-feet tall, but weighs less than 165 pounds. Yet, he is the top prospect in the Chicago Cubs organization, and to this point, he is the Cactus League leader in on-base plus slugging (OPS). It is an exceptionally good time to be Starlin Castro.
Unfortunately, it may turn out to be an equally bad time to be a Chicago Cubs fan. If and when Castro reaches the Major Leagues in 2010, he will be a colossal disappointment and the team will be left holding a painfully familiar Shawon Dunston-shaped bag.
Instead, the Cubs would be wise to capitalize on Castro's considerable hype by trading him now. Teams across the league would clamor for Castro, and the offers GM Jim Hendry would have to choose from would be very attractive. Chicago has a number of holes to fill, and with a relatively valuable incumbent Ryan Theriot still two years from free agency, shortstop simply is not one of them.
It is only prudent, though, to move beyond the simplistic assertion that the team does not have much need for Castro, and look instead at what makes Castro less than the super-prospect the Cubs' public relations department hopes the fans will perceive him to be. The following are the 2009 Minor League numbers of both Castro, and fellow Cubs system shortstop Andres Blanco:
Castro: .299 batting average, .342 on-base percentage, .392 slugging average, 3 home runs, 5.7% walk rate, 11.3% strikeout rate
Blanco: .304 batting average, .353 on-base percentage, .474 slugging average, 6 home runs, 6.6% walk rate, 12.2% strikeout rate
Obviously, those numbers do not flatter the supposedly superior Castro, although he is six years Blanco's junior and his merit above Blanco's is not in doubt. To make matters worse, Castro's numbers came in time split between Single-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee. Blanco's came exclusively at Triple-A Iowa, before his call-up to the parent club.
Only one widely disseminated projection system, Sean Smith's CHONE, formulates projections for players who have never appeared in the Major Leagues. That system estimates that if Castro were to make the Major League squad in 2010, he would post a meager .629 OPS. Blanco, according to the same system's numbers, would post a .682 mark.
Obviously, the buzz on Castro is not about 2010, but about what he could become in the years thereafter. His walk rates, however, suggest that if such a revelation is forthcoming, it is a long way off. Castro has shown neither power nor patience in his Minor League experience, and two seasons of pro ball is a long time for a player to go without demonstrating either of those skills.
Castro does possess a quick bat, and scouts rave that he will develop power as his frame fills out. However, if that growth is unaccompanied by a new approach at the plate, it will not mean much for his offensive game.
Blanco is far superior to Castro as a defender, but then again, Blanco is among the league's best defensive shortstops. Castro is a plus glove man there in his own right, and provides value on that side of the ball. There is no particular reason to dislike Castro as a player in the long term.
Simply put, the Cubs do not need to take the risk. Castro should land with whichever team has a top-shelf talent to trade, whom the Cubs can acquire with a package centered around their teenage phenom.