Signed by the Cubs as a 16-year-old in 2006, Castro hit well and showed enough in Rookie ball to garner aggressive promotion by Chicago throughout the minors. He missed Low-A and headed straight for the High-A Florida State League in 2009, where he hit .302/.340/.391 in 96 games before spending a month in Double-A as one of the youngest players in the Southern League at 19. He parlayed that successful season into an impressive showing in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .376 with nine steals and scored 18 runs in 26 games. Castro had done a lot to improve his status in the game and entered 2010 as the no.16 prospect according to Baseball America; Baseball Prospectus ranked him 38th at the time.
He wouldn’t last much longer in the minor leagues as he destroyed the Southern League for the first month of 2010, hitting .376/.421/.569 with 20 RBI and 20 runs scored in 26 games. Castro was called up by the Cubs on May 7th and had a very memorable major-league debut. He became the youngest Cubs shortstop in history at age 20 and was also the first major-leaguer born in the 1990s. Then he surprised everyone when he stepped up to the plate and hit a three-run home run off Homer Bailey in his first plate appearance after only hitting nine home runs in nearly 1,000 minor-league trips. He added a bases-clearing triple later in the game, knocking in six runs in his debut. Castro’s Wrigley Field debut on May 10th was more of a reality check, as the youngster made three errors in the Cubs loss. He settled in after that and finished the year with an even .300 AVG and fifth-place finish in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.
In 2011, Castro was the lone bright spot on an underachieving Cubs team. He was their only All-Star representative and became the youngest player to lead the National League in hits. Still, he was subjected to criticism of his defense and lack of power and walks, though he displayed a strong throwing arm and was still young for the league. It was easy to forget how young Castro still was at 21, and that immaturity may have contributed to a few on-field focus-lacking incidents over the next two years—one where he had his back to the plate while a pitch was being thrown, another a case of forgetting the number of outs. While Castro seemed to clash with his on-field managers in these incidents, Cubs upper management didn’t let that dissuade them from locking him up. They signed him to an eight-year, $60 million deal with a team option for 2020, choosing to build around the young shortstop.
The Cubs decided to tinker with Castro’s approach the following season in 2013 as the free-swinger was instructed to see more pitches at the top of the lineup. The results were poor as Castro struggled for the first time in the majors and hit just .245 with a .102 ISO. He bounced back nicely in 2014, getting back to his old aggressive ways, and hitting .292 while tying his career-high of 14 home runs on his way to making his third All-Star team. The result actually was a blend of the two approaches as he posted career lows in both overall swing percentage and out-of-zone swing percentage, signifying that he didn’t simply go back to a swing-first-and-ask-questions-later approach.
What’s Happened So Far
Castro remains a polarizing player. After last year, it was easy to say that those who wrote him off after his bad 2013 season were foolish, but once again Castro finds himself tanking it. He’s struggling now more than ever before in his professional career, as he’s hitting just .238/.274/.307 in 431 plate appearances. The approach he seemed to have developed last year hasn’t carried over; his out-of-zone swing percentage is up to 37 percent, which is the second-highest clip of his career (31 percent last year).
While he’s swinging more this season, he’s doing very little once he actually makes contact. His 16 percent line-drive rate is the worst of his career, as is his 13 percent infield-fly pace. Castro’s 56 percent ground-ball clip is the highest of his career and his 24 percent soft-contact percentage is his highest since 2011 by far. He may have hit rock bottom in July as he went 16-for-94 (.170) with a .216 BABIP, three doubles, and three walks.
What to Expect the Rest of 2015
Well, do you feel lucky? This is usually the part of the profile where I say that Player X isn’t likely to be quite as good or bad over the rest of the season as he looks right now. I might remind you that the fella’s rest-of-season PECOTA projection still holds water and we shouldn’t get too excited or depressed about anyone just yet because, hey, it’s baseball. On the other hand, Castro hasn’t hit above .245 in a month this season since April, so I’m definitely not expecting him to hit .272 the rest of the way just because of what a computer says.
The question really becomes, do you feel lucky? Sure, Castro’s .277 BABIP is well below his .319 career BABIP and he definitely can’t be as bad as he was in July again, meaning he’s due for some positive regression. But let’s not pretend like having him active in anything other than a deep league the rest of the way is a good idea. Even when the AVG is right, he’s not going to contribute much at all in the way of home runs or stolen bases, making him a risk with little possible reward.
The Great Beyond
While Castro was once a player the Cubs chose to build around, now that they have assembled so much talent, he’s merely a face in the crowd—and the Cubs infield is only going to get more crowded. BP’s own Matthew Trueblood outlined a plan earlier this season on BP Wrigleyville in which the Cubs would essentially rotate Addison Russell, Javier Baez, and Castro in the middle infield, with each of them starting four or five times a week. I’m not counting on that plan to take hold soon, but it’s likely that the Cubs are also looking for creative ways to get Castro going. It’s still too early to give up on him: He’s not even 26 years old and won’t make eight figures until 2018.
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