Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Next big thing, or next big headache?

Ok, by now most of you have probably seen video from Sunday's Cubs/Cardinals game showing Starlin Castro doing everything but paying attention to the baseball game. At one point, he seems to completely miss the fact that Cubs' pitcher James Russell throws a pitch to the Cardinals shortstop, Daniel Descalso. You know it's bad when Mr. No-Attention-Span himself, Alfonso Soriano, is the one who tells you that you missed an entire play. Castro admitted that he didn't know he had missed the play until he saw it on TV later that night. Castro and the Cubs were roundly criticized during the game and Castro got a day off on Monday, presumably as a form of punishment.

There's a part of me that wants to join in. Castro's one of the only possible "stars" for the Cubs to latch their wagon to, but honestly, I think he's just got too far to go development-wise to justify the fuss. It is beyond clear that the kid has talent, but it is also apparent that he's lacking a bit in maturity. I've heard folks throw out comparisons to Jeter, which just makes me laugh. As a huge fan of Jeter's, I have to admit a strong bias here, but even during his early years in the majors, Derek never took his eyes off the ball. And while he still commits his share of errors, generally, he's the kind of player that makes all the plays he's expected to make. With Castro, sometimes it is the highlight reel plays that look easy and the easy plays that end up looking embarrassing.

But ultimately, I this highlights a big problem I've seen with the Cubs over the last several years...and to a certain extent in pro sports in general. The Cubs have a long history of enabling less than acceptable behavior when it is generating the optimal result. Sammy Sosa always seemed to get away with being a poor teammate -- until such time that he stopped hitting home runs at an incredible rate...then he was banished to the Orioles. Corey Patterson was brought up through the minors as a #3 hitter in the order, then became a problem child when he wasn't able to change his mindset to be a leadoff hitter. Carlos Zambrano looked to be a Cy Young caliber pitcher and earned himself a big payday...and, well, saying that hasn't turned out well is an understatement. And now we see Castro -- star of the future -- gifted with amazing natural talent, and yet it isn't until ESPN's cameras catch him popping sunflower seeds in his mouth and kicking at the dirt that he gets reprimanded. I have a hard time believing this was the first time the kid has zoned out during a game, yet this is the first time Quade (more likely someone in the front office) has seen fit to give Castro a day off.

Castro has the talent to be a very good -- if not great -- major league shortstop. He could be the next big star for the Cubs. He could also be yet another player in a frustratingly long line of guys that are content to compile stats and be the "big man" on a mediocre team. I really hope the former will turn out to be the case, but I fear that the latter is far more likely.

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