Castro's potential still not quite fulfilled

CHICAGO -- Starlin Castro is undoubtedly one of the most talented players on the Chicago Cubs. But he is one of the more criticized players on the team as well.

The young shortstop has six errors and is putting up a .279/.310/.397 line on the season. While those numbers are a little disappointing (although errors can be a very misleading statistic in regards to defensive evaluation), people often forget that Castro is 23, more than seven months younger than teammate Anthony Rizzo.

But the fact remains that Castro has yet to really fulfill his potential. Cubs manager Dale Sveum said only Castro himself can ensure he extracts every ounce of his vast talent.

“His potential is what he wants it to be, that’s the bottom line with him,” Sveum said. “How good he wants to be, that’s up to him. The hard work, the concentration levels and being able to have all kinds of things in your toolbox as a shortstop as well as a hitter, he’s got all the ability to be top line, but the rest of it is up to him from now on.”

Castro’s defense can be hit or miss. He’ll often range far up the middle or towards third base and make a spectacular play; only to follow that up by botching the routine play, as he did on Saturday on a Ruben Tejada ground ball.

“There’s still the lapse,” Sveum said. “I’d say mentally he’s gotten a lot better, but physically and things like that I think we’re seeing a lot of the same stuff that we need to get better at.”

What may be most surprising is Castro’s struggles with the bat. Castro worked with hitting coach James Rowson last season to try and be more "selectively aggressive," as the Cubs organization likes to say.

Castro is the type of hitter who can make contact with almost any type of pitch. However, the Cubs’ philosophy is that just because it’s a strike, doesn’t mean you should swing. The goal for Castro and every other bat in the lineup should be to wait for strikes that you can drive and avoid pitches that you may be able to put in play, but without authority. In theory, this should help both Castro’s on-base and slugging percentage.

This season, Castro is seeing an improvement in how many pitches he’s seeing per plate appearance (currently at a career high 3.82 P/PA), but that hasn’t resulted in an uptick in walks or power. Castro has a respectable 14 extra-base hits, but his walk rate is a measly 3.7%.

Castro struggled on Saturday not only on defense, but went 0-for-4 with a strikeout, often swinging early in the count.

“It’s a little noticeable,” Sveum said in Castro’s uptick in pitches seen. “But then you have at-bats like yesterday where he’s breaking down, concentration wise. He’s not getting a good pitch and he’s swinging at everything the pitcher throws up there. It just comes and goes, that’s what we’re talking about as far as a concentration level. It still has to get on a consistent basis to get to that next level.”

Villanueva available in pen: Sveum said Carlos Villanueva, who was demoted to the bullpen to make room for Matt Garza in the rotation, would be available to pitch on Sunday if needed. He said that since he’s been a reliever for much of his career, the transition shouldn’t be a problem for him.

“Obviously the whole routine of being a starter is done,” Sveum said. “He has his own routine about being in the bullpen, what he’s gotta do and understand how many pitches he needs to throw to come into a game. He’s done it many, many times, so I’m sure he has his own gig that way.”

Sveum added that he wouldn’t hesitate to use Villanueva in any role out of the pen, including late-inning situations.

Quality Wood: Sunday’s starter Travis Wood is working on a streak of eight straight quality starts and Sveum is well aware of it.

“It’s pushed in your face a lot and it’s a great stat to be pushed in your face,” Sveum said. “But you hear about it, obviously, because it’s a nice streak. For him, it’s not just been quality starts. It’s been seven, eight innings of one run, two runs. Just really pitching extremely well.”

Wood is sporting a 2.03 ERA on season and batters are hitting just .175/.249/.273 against him.