Starlin Castro looks like Rudy. That is all.Pepin le Bref is once again stirring up rumors about players who aren't on the Cubs roster, only this time it's a guy with a solid chance to work his way onto it. Starlin Castro was a non-roster invitee to the Cubs' spring training festivities, but he has looked like a guy you wouldn't mind having on the big-league club.
In 15 plate appearances.
Pepin would have you believe the Cubs brass is conflicted about what to do with the phenom sporting the 1.600 OPS (in 15 PA): start him in AAA or give him a shot on the opening-day roster. As previously reported by his Bref-ness, Lou wouldn't want Starlin to be a bench player; the kid needs to play:
Cubs manager Lou Piniella ended any speculation Sunday that Andres Blanco's knee injury would open up a job for 19-year-old shortstop Starlin Castro.
"No, no," he said. "Starlin is going to start the season in Triple-A (Iowa) and play. The only way Starlin would come into this equation, and I've said this before, is if he shows he's ready to play here and there's a problem physically with Theriot.
"Now, we don't want that. But I'll tell you what, I've been very impressed with Starlin. He's smooth up there, got a nice throwing arm, good hands. He gives you a nice at-bat. But no, we're going to go with Theriot at shortstop, and certainly (Castro) wouldn't be up here backing up under any circumstances. We want this kid to play."
Less than a week after collecting that gem from Lou, le Bref suggests the decision isn't so clear cut, even though Lou hasn't changed one iota of his story:
Manager Lou Piniella continues to insist Ryan Theriot is his shortstop and he's not interested in moving him to second to make room for Castro at short.
Prospects headed to the minors typically get sent to minor league camp midway through Cactus League games. Will the Cubs give Castro a longer look?
"That's going to be up to (general manager) Jim Hendry and (assistant GM Randy Bush)," Piniella said. "Unless the kid is going to start here, their preference in the past has been to send these kids out to get them familiar with where they are going to play."
But few Cubs prospects have performed as well as Castro has early in the games. When he smacked a first-pitch home run to left in the fifth inning, Piniella looked at bench coach Alan Trammell with a wild-eyed grin on his face.
So why manufacture a story that goes against every quote from the people who matter and is supported by nothing but 15 plate appearances and a post-homer smile?
Well, to give Pepi some credit, Castro is an exciting player. He's bigger and faster than Theriot, but he's also a full 10 years younger. Meanwhile, Theriot is having just as much success as Castro this spring (not to mention how ridiculous it is to base any significant decisions on a handful of spring at-bats against a bunch of guys with sub-Silva type stuff . . . oh, crap, I just mentioned it; but it was in parentheses, so it doesn't really count).
But I don't think Piniella, Hendry, or Bush will be making a decision based on Castro's numbers. Frankly, they probably won't be basing that decision on anything other than what they've already said. Their decision is all but made, and if they do change their minds it will be because of what they see of him in person, not on paper. They won't gamble the fate of this season or, more importantly, the future of a could-be superstar, when they're perfectly content with Ryan Theriot at short.
Except that Ryan Theriot isn't really the guy to compare to Castro, because he wouldn't be the one to get bumped out of the lineup. It's the Fontenot/Baker platoon that would get replaced as Castro stepped in at short and Theriot moseyed on to the other side of second base.
That's the question of the moment: would the Cubs rather have a middle infield of Theriot/Bakenot or Castro/Theriot? And would they rather have a batting order featuring Castro's sizzling speed and a font of potential or . . . just Fontebaker? I understand those who think either one of those guys could be solid, but I don't know how often anyone will actually utter the words, "Oh good, Fontenot is up," or "Sweet, it's Baker time!"
Look, I'm excited to see what Starlin Castro can do as the Cubs' everyday shortstop, but I can wait. I'm not setting myself up to become incensed by the impending news of Castro's assignment to AAA Iowa. But I'm certainly not begging the front office to indulge their sense of patience. I think there's a decent chance that Starlin Castro would outperform Theriot in the field, that he'd outperform Bakenot at the plate, and that Theriot would improve the defense at second.
But I also don't know jack, and I trust Lou's judgment. And Jim's. And Randy's. I'm just glad to see Castro pass yet another test on the way to Wrigley.