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Cubs Wed Mar 27 2013

What To Watch For: Starlin Castro in 2013

Cubs_200.pngJust because the Cubs likely won't outscore their opponents often enough to make the playoffs this year, doesn't mean 2013 is meaningless in the grand scheme of building a franchise. The one Cubs star who has had the spotlight pointed directly on him for a few years now is Starlin Castro. His growth is important to the future of the organization, and should be quite exciting to watch this calendar year.

He just turned 23, which is often a time that top prospects begin to crack into the Major Leagues. Instead, Castro begins his fourth season in Chicago. It's time to see what they really will get for the $60 million contract extension that kicks in on opening day.

Castro's home run production has risen each year he's been in the majors, topping out at 14 last year. His goal this year is probably the magic number of 20. It's lofty for someone that hasn't approached it before, but Castro makes hard enough contact that if he can increase his fly ball rate, he'll reach that goal with relative ease.

Rising along with the power has been Castro's stolen base numbers. He swiped 25 bags last year, with a majority of them coming in the first two months of the season when opposing pitchers and catchers weren't quite expecting it. When they finally caught on, Castro's stolen base percentage collapsed. He nabbed only 10 bases in the final four months of the season, while being caught eight times. It's likely that 25 steals may end up being the high water mark for his career. He isn't overly fast, and is quite a bit bigger now than when he entered the majors as a wiry 20-year-old. Castro needs to work on being more selective and get his success rate in the 75 percent range. It's far more important than the raw number of thieveries.

The troubling aspect of Castro's offensive game has been his on base percentage. It has trended downward his whole career to a low of .323 last year. The hope is that the half season he had with hitting coach James Rowson in 2012, along with the continuity with Rowson this year will lead to more patience at the plate. Castro says the team wants him to take more pitches, but the phrase that Theo Epstein and the organization are preaching in camp is 'selective aggressiveness.' Only swing at pitches early in the count that you can drive and work yourself into favorable situations where the pitcher needs to throw a strike.

What was previously the most infuriating part of Castro's game, might very well take the biggest jump this year: defense. He has told the coaches and media that he wants to 'be like Barney,' referring to the Gold Glove that second baseman Darwin Barney won last year. Mental lapses have been a recurring issue at shortstop for Castro, but he's determined to eliminate them this season. He's also had a tendency of multi-error games, and sometimes even two error innings. One wild throw often turned into three in the past, so the simple matter of forgetting a previous mistake could easily put him on the path to being an above-average defender.

There's no reason to panic if Castro doesn't improve in every area this season. Even though he's played at the highest level for the better part of three seasons, he's still just 23. Most players don't hit their prime until their late-20s -- unless, of course, they're superstars. We'll find out soon enough if Castro qualifies as one of those players or not.

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