There's no truth to the rumor that Starlin Castro got a hit in every single Minor League at-bat. He also hasn't won the Gold Glove for his play at shortstop this spring.
But Castro has looked as good as he was hyped.
"He's fun to watch play, he plays very relaxed, very self assured," Lou Piniella said of the Cubs' highly regarded prospect. "Obviously, he has the physical talents, the good arm, the good hands, smooth. With the bat, he hits the ball this way [to right] and yesterday he turned on one. Let's continue to play him here."
The teenage shortstop, who turns 20 on March 24, went 2-for-2 on Thursday in the Cubs' game against the San Diego Padres. He hit his first home run, walked, singled and scored three runs. He showed that he is human on Friday when he made a throwing error that led to an unearned run.
"Because he's 19, that doesn't mean he can't perform," Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez said. "But at the same time, he's still a young kid and can get better at the Minors and come up and be a great player. I don't think [age] is an issue."
The concern is whether Castro will be overmatched in the big leagues. In his first month at Class A Daytona, he batted .200. He followed that by hitting .368 in May, .314 in June. He was promoted to Double-A Tennessee and batted .288, played in the Southern League playoffs and then hit .376 in the Arizona Fall League.
He's had success. Can he handle failure?
"It depends on how he thinks mentally and how strong he is," Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano said. "When you're struggling and you think too much, you can't get out of it. It depends on how smart he is and how he takes it. He's so young. He's doing good right now. I hope he continues doing good. but sometimes you can have little tests, struggle for one week -- how do you get out of that? That's what I worry about."
Soriano knows how difficult it is for a young player to try to adjust to the big leagues. When he was 18, he went to Japan to play. He did not have any family, didn't know the language, and lived on McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken for six months.
Was he scared?
"Yes," he said. "After six months, I started eating a little Japanese food. I had some friends there [after a while] and one of them would cook for us. But the first six months were not easy."
If Castro was on the Cubs' big league roster, he would not be as isolated as Soriano was. There are other Dominican players on the team. Castro is working on his English.
"I know he has the talent," Soriano said. "I don't want to see him struggle. You see a lot of young guys with talent and they get frustrated in the big leagues. He could get frustrated. It depends on how smart he is."
So, could he handle failure?
"Who says he's going to fail?" Ramirez said. "You don't know. He could, but you don't know what's going to happen. He's good. He's not going to hit .330 -- hopefully he will. You can't ask a 19-, 20-year-old to hit .330. Hopefully, they give him the opportunity."
The Cubs don't need a shortstop. They have Ryan Theriot. Piniella has maintained that the organization wants Castro to get more seasoning and open the year in the Minor Leagues. However, don't expect the young infielder to be gone in the first round of cuts, expected next week. Castro, an MLB.com Top 50 Prospect, could stay with the team until the end.
"He is a mature kid," Ramirez said. "You can tell he doesn't get too high. He doesn't think he's the No. 1 kid, the top prospect. He acts like he's just another guy. He knows what he's got and he shows it on the field."
Age is not the determining factor, Piniella said.
"We've talked about the fact that young players, the real good ones, come up early," Piniella said. "The average age for a Major Leaguer is 23, 24, in that time frame. As a starter, you get 300, 400 innings [in the Minor Leagues], 2,500 at-bats as a hitter. The ones who are good, the ones who are exceptional, they come up early. They can adapt and adjust. I don't think the age is a determining factor here."
Piniella was Alex Rodriguez's manager when he first came up to the big leagues at 19. He played three weeks and then was sent back to the Minors. Then, Rodriguez came up for good and never looked back.
"The big thing is get their feet on the ground, get the goosebumps out, let them know what it feels like," Piniella said. "Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker, they came up and they never went down. The kids who are super good, they don't fit in that 23 [year-old] category."
A scout who watched Castro in the Arizona Fall League said: "There's not much I didn't like."
"We talk a lot," Soriano said. "I tell him, 'Keep doing what you're doing, enjoy it, have fun. You have your whole life in front of you. You're 19 years old. Just enjoy what you do."
Castro has looked good both in the field and at the plate.
"He's good," Ramirez said. "He's a good player. And he will be a good player."
"Hopefully," Ramirez said.
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