Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro, who led the National League in hits in 2011, may be poised to challenge for the NL batting title as the 23-year-old is working on a new approach he adopted at the beginning of spring training.
Castro told me he intends to drive the ball to right field in his quest to become a .300 hitter again.
"I would love to see this young man have a little bit more plate discipline," a long-time National League scout said. "If he learns to lay off the slider outside of the hitting zone, he could become the most dangerous hitter in the league."
Castro's season last year started under the cloud of a police investigation into a sexual assault accusation. The investigation was dropped without any charges. During that period, Castro's agent had begun working with Cub executives on a long-term deal.
Without making excuses for Castro, his offense and defense improved dramatically after the long-term deal was agreed to in late August.
This year he's been able to focus exclusively on baseball, although he's off to a modest start with a .257 average,
"It is as much as anything the guy is maturing a little bit," manager Dale Sveum said. "He had a great at-bat the other night.
"I also want him to have the same approach with men in scoring position as well."
Castro has been working on ball and strike identification, but he wants to retain his aggressive approach at the same time. Due to a 24-point drop in batting average last season, his on-base percentage dipped to .323, 17 points lower than in 2011. He struck out 25 more times in 28 fewer at-bats than in 2011. Castro led the league in at-bats and errors in first two full seasons in the major leagues.
Sveum warns against any young player like Castro falling in love with just one approach to hitting.
"You have to be careful with everything," he said. "Sometimes you are going the other way too often and you consistently get beat by the fastball all the time.
"The maturity as a hitter once you get to that 1,000 and 1,500 at-bats in the big leagues depends on you. You pretty much have to learn how to make those adjustments."
The future could be limitless for Castro, and his ability to hit for a higher average will increase as management puts better hitters around him in the lineup.