LaHair joins Castro as NL All-Star

CHICAGO -- Starlin Castro was expected to be an All-Star for the Chicago Cubs, but the team with the worst winning percentage in baseball had a surprise waiting for them.

Bryan LaHair was also named to the National League team for the July 10 game at Kansas City, completing a run from minor-league journeyman to the Midsummer Classic in just a half of a season.

LaHair was notified of his selection by manager Dale Sveum at around noon CST, just before it was announced on live television. He was said to be both elated and speechless at the same time.

At 29 years old, LaHair is getting his first chance to be a major league regular and has made the most of it. His high point came during a red-hot run in April and on into May when he reached base safely in 32 consecutive games.

He entered play Sunday with a .284 batting average, 13 home runs, 28 RBIs and a .526 slugging percentage that was tied for 11th in the National League. He has struggled of late, though, with a .192 batting average in his last 18 games going back to June 6. He has just one home run since June 8.

Before this season he had just 65 games of major-league experience between the Seattle Mariners in 2008 and the Cubs last season. He dominated minor-league play, though, especially the past two seasons.

In 2010 at Triple-A Iowa he batted .308 with 25 home runs, 81 RBIs and a .557 slugging percentage. He was even better at Iowa last season, leading the Pacific Coast League in home runs (38), RBIs (109) and slugging percentage (.664). He even had a .331 batting average.

Even before this spring was to the halfway point, Sveum said that LaHair would be his regular starting first baseman.

While he has kept a positive attitude, LaHair’s recent struggles had coincided with all the talk about Anthony Rizzo's imminent arrival in Chicago and how the young prospect would take over at first base. That change became a reality on Tuesday as Rizzo arrived and LaHair has been turned into a right fielder.

There has been much more stability surrounding Castro. The new Cubs front office has been impressed watching Castro play shortstop on an everyday basis and general manager Jed Hoyer considers him a cornerstone which the franchise should be built around.

“The thing about Starlin, and Theo (Epstein) and I talk about this all the time, when we got here people questioned his ability to stay at shortstop,” Hoyer said Saturday. “I don’t think there is any question (he can play shortstop). I think he will be an above average defensive shortstop in time.

“He’s made some errors but he’s a 22-year-old shortstop. The range is there. We have worked really hard with Dale and (infield coach) Pat (Listach) on his defense. I think he’s going to be a shortstop for a long time. He has really proven a lot to us in a short time and I think he’s only going to get better.”

He will probably be an All-Star for a long time if he continues to grow. Indications are that he won the players’ All-Star vote by a landslide, but the St. Louis Cardinals' Rafael Furcal won the fan vote to be the starter.

Castro entered Sunday’s game batting .298 with six home runs and 40 RBIs and has continued to play solid defense despite some early miscues and mental gaffes.

Castro made his first career All-Star appearance last season at Arizona, striking out in his only at-bat. He entered the game as a pinch runner and stole two bases.