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.