Starlin Castro: The Derrick Rose of the Cubs?

The excitement over the Bulls and Blackhawks, and the mediocre performance of the city’s baseball teams, has overshadowed a nicely developing story: Starlin Castro’s hot start after a promising rookie campaign.

Starlin Castro chicago cubsExciting times in Chicago sports: the Bulls finished with the best record in the league, and even though they haven’t dominated the Pacers, they’ll likely finish them off Tuesday. Derrick Rose is going to be the MVP (right?). The Blackhawks, down three games to none, have pushed the Canucks to a seventh and final game with an overtime victory last night.

Baseball hasn’t been as fun. The White Sox are last in the bizarro world of the AL Central (I can’t remember the last time a Cleveland-Kansas City game featured two teams that were playing well). The Cubs are a game and a half back in the pit of mediocrity that’s the NL Central.

As a result, one of the best stories in baseball is getting a bit overlooked: the Cubs have the youngest player in baseball, and so far he’s one of the best. As the rivals at Viva El Birdos put it:

If a 20-year-old shortstop were to hit .300 across most of a full rookie season in Minnesota, you’d say, “We’d know all about this guy if he were playing for the Yankees, the Red Sox, or the Cubs, and named something cool, like Starlin.” Now he’s playing for the Cubs, and hitting .375, and I’m significantly further from Cubs territory than I used to be but I still find it bizarre that I’m not being assaulted by his image on a regular basis.

He’s having an amazing season so far: tied for first in baseball in hits (35, the same as Matt Kemp, currently the best hitter in the league). He’s got the third-lowest strikeout percentage in baseball behind A.J. Pierzynski and Placido Polanco, and just ahead of Ichiro—which is handy, because his walk rate is still low. He’s still not a great defensive shortstop—advanced metrics put him just ahead of Derek Jeter—but that factors in the fact that he’s been error-prone so far in his career, with 31 in his first 145 games over two seasons. If he can improve that, which is not unreasonable to expect for a 21-year-old shortstop, he’s got the other pieces in place to be a good fielder.

The skeptics at Viva El Birdos claim he’s the next Edgar Renteria, and Baseball Prospectus indicates that his most comparable player is 1997-era Renteria. And here’s what BP said about Renteria back then: “Between Jeter, Rodriguez and Renteria, the 2000s could be for shortstops what the 1950s were for center fielders.”

That didn’t happen, but if your hopeful-but-reasonable expectation is “the next Edgar Renteria,” that’s not bad: Renteria’s got 2,250+ hits, a World Series MVP trophy, two rings, and five all-star appearances. Castro’s not the best shortstop in baseball, or the league; that’ll probably be a shootout between Troy Tulowitzki and Hanley Ramirez. But given that—barring a miracle—the Cubs will be biding 2011 until they clear some contracts off the books, he’s the best thing going on the North Side right now.

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