Fennelly: Cubs’ Castoff Starlin Castro Realizing His Potential With the Yankees

When the New York Yankees traded for Chicago Cubs’ second baseman Starlin Castro after the 2015 season, they knew there would be risks. Were they getting the Castro who had been a perennial All-Star at the beginning of the decade, or the declining player who found himself in Joe Maddon’s doghouse?

Castro’s major-league career had started off with a bang, as a 20 year-old shortstop who burst onto the scene in 2010 and led the National League in hits (207) in 2011 and in at-bats from 2011-13.

But Castro would soon find himself on the outs at Wrigley. After an All-Star season in 2014, the Cubs decided to go in a different direction. They traded for the Oakland A’s shortstop prodigy Addison Russell and moved Castro to second base, where he felt out of place and would soon fall completely out of the Cubs’ future plans.

“I always played short, for six years in the majors, and I didn’t even practice at second,” Castro said. “They told me in Chicago from nowhere. I didn’t feel good out there.”

He was traded to the Yankees in December of 2015 in exchange for reliever Adam Warren and a player to be named later, which turned out to INF Brendan Ryan.

In 2016, the Yankees were a team in transition. They were hoping to rebuild their core with young stars and Castro, only 26, could fit into the model if he could just get back to normalcy. But he would not be returning to shortstop.

He played 150 games at second base alongside new SS Didi Gregorius and registered a career high in HR (21) while knocking in 70 runs. It may have been one of the quietest debuts in Yankees’ history.

This year, Castro is more comfortable in his skin as a Yankee. The Dominican-born Castro is not your normal-sized middle infielder, mid you, at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds. He has been a marginal defensive player and the Yankees, just like the Cubs, will likely seek a more traditional solution at second base. But the way Castro has been wielding the bat thus far in pinstripes, they’ll grin and bear it for now.

Castro is hitting. His .348 BA ranks third in the American League and no player in either league has more hits (55). He has played all 38 games this year and has hit safely in 32 of them. The Yankees, with no real established veteran power hitter in the lineup, have batted Castro fourth 17 times this season and has hit fifth nine times. He has responded with seven HRs and 26 RBI, which puts him on a pace to hit 28 HR and drive in 104 runs, which would both be career highs.

“He’s a talented hitter,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “When he swings at strikes, he’s really good.”

Girardi was referring to the discipline issue that has plagued Castro throughout his career. His pitch selection needed to improve. Too many times, he struck himself out or took himself out of at-bats by swinging at balls out of the strike zone. Last year, walked only 24 times in 610 plate appearances.

What many people forget about Castro is that he is still very young and although the expectations around him may have waned, there’s still a really good player in there. Castro is one of the top slugging 2B in all of baseball with a 928 OPS, better than former Yankee Robinson Cano, Washington’s Daniel Murphy and Jose Altuve, the budding Astros superstar.
But as well as Castro has hit for the Yankees, his future in the Bronx could be short-lived. The club’s top prospect, Gleyber Torres, is on the fast tack in the minors and is projected to play – you guessed it – second base. Torres is another former Cub who the Yankees got last year in the deftly-crafted Aroldis Chapman trade. Also coming to the Yankees in that deal was Adam Warren, the player who the Yankees traded away to get Castro.

For the moment, Castro has his eyes fixed dead ahead. He can’t be concerned about who is on his heels or what his long term future holds. Right now, he is signed through 2019 and has a $19 million club option for 2020. His major concern is helping the Yankees win and maybe even pick up a batting title in the process.

“I think I can do it. I know the talent that I have,” he said recently. Pretty soon, everyone else might think so, too.

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