When the Chicago Cubs called up Starlin Castro in 2010, they brought up a 20-year-old kid who homered in his first at-bat and finished 5th in NL Rookie of the Year balloting. In his first full season in MLB, he led the National League with 207 hits and was named to the NL All Star team and would earn a second consecutive trip to the Midsummer Classic a year later. Then he spun out of control a season ago, failing to qualify for a third straight All Star squad and his numbers declined all around. That was probably not what the Cubs had in mind when they inked him in 2012 to a 7-year, $60 million contract.
On Sunday, though, it was all different. Castro was named to his third NL All Star team in the past four seasons as a shortstop reserve, and it would be hard to say Castro isn’t a serious candidate for NL Comeback Player of the Year. Sure, he didn’t suffer a freak injury or anything, but it’s been a very nice bounce back year for him. He’s already surpassed his home run and RBI total from a year ago, despite playing in 161 games and leading the NL with 666 at-bats in 2013. His OPS+ sits at 120, which would be a new career high for him if he could sustain it. His batting average is up significantly and if he’s trying to prove that last year was just a bad luck year, he’s doing an excellent job of that so far in 2014.
It could be argued that Castro’s road to redemption year has also left some question marks concerning the team’s future. After all, Javier Baez was a top 10 prospect going into the season and very well could’ve been the heir apparent to Castro at shortstop for the team. With the club acquiring Addison Russell on July 4, perhaps maybe he could succeed Castro instead, or maybe Baez and Russell are potential trade bait to lure in a young pitcher. Perhaps Castro is increasing his value so that way he could be sent off, but that seems unlikely, according to a July 5 Chicago Tribune article from Mark Gonzales. A quote in the story from Cubs President Theo Epstein said the trade had nothing to do with Castro and, as quoted in the piece, Epstein also commended Castro for his improvement on defense. According to Epstein in the story, the deal was all about acquiring younger talent.
Perhaps Castro may struggle again, leading to Baez or Russell being called up and getting their try at shortstop, since, after all, this is a business which could change at any point. For now, though, the 24-year-old deserves all the praise for the progress he has made from last season, and his All Star trip is very well deserved, and should this team win a World Series within the next handful of years, Castro’s production could be a big reason why.