Starlin Castro an All-Star for third time

Shortstop Starlin Castro already has more home runs and RBIs than he did all of last season. AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles

There might not be a more meaningful All-Star selection than Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro, who made it for the third time in five big league seasons.

It was a year ago on this date Castro was hitting just .234 with an on-base percentage of .269 en route to the worst season of his career. He was maligned by fans and media alike as his defense suffered about as much as his offense. No matter how you analyze it, Castro was also responsible -- at least in some fashion -- for the dismissal of former manager Dale Sveum.

Castro was seemingly at a crossroads after 2013 despite the past All-Star selections.

Then 2014 began, with new skipper Rick Renteria, and all was forgotten. Castro came into spring training in the best shape of his career, and though a hamstring injury slowed him, he quickly picked up the pace within the second week of the regular season.

And he hasn’t looked back en route to the July 15 All-Star Game at Target Field in Minneapolis.

After Sunday’s 2-1 defeat to the Washington Nationals, Castro is hitting .287 with 11 home runs and 51 RBIs. With runners on base, his batting average is up to .353. The home runs and RBIs are already more than he had all of last season (10/44). He has 11 errors, but his mental mistakes are far and few between compared to his past. He’s simply the player that everyone thought he could grow into after his All-Star seasons of 2011 and 2012. He’s said many times this year he’s just “being myself.”

Castro hasn’t missed a game this season despite his manager scheduling him for one several times. Each time he’s talked Renteria out of it.

“I’ll tell him when I need one,” Castro said.

Even with the addition via trade of shortstop Addison Russell, and top prospect Javier Baez waiting in the wings at Triple-A Iowa, it's hard to see one of them as Castro’s replacement. Even with warts, he’s now a three-time All-Star while Baez, for example, didn’t even make the Triple-A All-Star team this season. Baez and Russell might be able to perform at the big league level someday, but Castro has done it. And his comeback season has been nothing short of fantastic, even as we watch him hit in the cleanup spot, not exactly a natural position for him.

Castro has every right to be proud of his return to baseball prominence as there were more than a few doubters along the way. But now he’s an All-Star again.

That’s three times in five seasons, and he’s only 24 years old.

The Cubs could have another All-Star as first baseman Anthony Rizzo is one of five finalists for the last roster spot on the National League team. Rizzo is up against Justin Morneau of the Colorado Rockies, Anthony Rendon of the Washington Nationals, Casey McGehee of the Miami Marlins and Justin Upton of the Atlanta Braves. Fans can vote on MLB.com until 3 p.m. CT on Thursday.

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Rizzo also has had a comeback season, hitting .276 with 17 home runs and 45 RBIs. He leads NL first baseman in homers after hitting 23 all of last season, when he batted .233.