TAMPA, Fla. -- Over the past six months, Starlin Castro has been asked to change positions, change leagues, change teams and change cities.
By his own admission, Castro is still in the process of learning to play second base, a move the Chicago Cubs asked him to make in the midst of a struggling season last August after five seasons as their starting shortstop.
And now, barely two months after Castro was traded from the Cubs to the New York Yankees, his new team is heaping another assignment on his already loaded plate -- learning to play third base.
Still, the 25-year-old Castro is being asked to add a lot of new skill sets in a short time, and he admits the process hasn't been easy so far.
"It's a lot to learn. I'm still learning to play second," said Castro, who lost his shortstop job with the Cubs to rookie Addison Russell in August and was benched for a week by Joe Maddon before returning to the lineup as a second baseman.
The shift seemed to have awakened his bat, which was snoozing in the .230s at the time Maddon benched him. During the final two months of the season, Castro batted .335 and smacked five of his 11 home runs in September. That resurgence, as well as Castro's natural athletic ability, persuaded GM Brian Cashman to part with Adam Warren, a vital part of his 2015 pitching staff, and Brendan Ryan to make Castro the latest in the parade of second basemen -- in addition to Drew and Ryan, Dustin Ackley, Gregorio Petit, Jose Pirela, Rob Refsnyder, Dean Anna, Kelly Johnson, Martin Prado, Brian Roberts and Yangervis Solarte have played there since 2013 -- trying to fill the void left by Cano's departure for Seattle.
Now, the Yankees have decided Castro should also learn to play third to back up Chase Headley, who not only had a poor defensive season but also has a history of back problems.
"[Manager] Joe [Girardi] asked me if I can play third base, and I tell him yes," Castro said. "I never played there but that's why spring training is now. Start practicing a couple of games and let's see how I feel."
To help ease Castro's transition, the Yankees have asked Alex Rodriguez, who famously made the move from shortstop to third base when he joined the Yankees in 2004, to help out. Asked what would be the most difficult part of the switch for Castro, A-Rod said, "I mean, there are so many things. The angles are completely different. There are so many plays that you don’t have at short -- there’s bunting, cut off and relays, and obviously you don’t get to see what’s going on with the catcher. You’re just reacting."
Girardi agreed that what the Yankees are asking of Castro could be difficult.
“Well, I think the important thing is, as we go through this, is how comfortable he is and how comfortable we are with moving him there," Girardi said. "If you’re ever going to try it, now is the time to try it. You don’t want to try it on April 30. It is a lot because he is still learning second base as well, but it’s something we feel he’s capable of doing, but we just have to get him comfortable and find out if he’s comfortable.”
In side-by-side drills with Refsnyder, Castro has looked far smoother and more polished turning the double play, and he anticipates he will have no problem getting in sync with Didi Gregorius at short.
"Everybody knows how good he is," Castro said. "So it should be easy."
The two had a casual friendship when Castro was a Cub and Gregorius was in the National League, first as a Red and later, a Diamondback. But now, "We'll get to know each other more," Castro said, indicating that Gregorius' locker, appropriately enough, is right next to his in the Yankees' clubhouse.