Like first base, there is no real doubt who will be the team’s starting at shortstop when the season begins. However, with the Cubs amassing a lot of depth at the position, the real question is who will be there for the foreseeable future. Let’s take a look at the shortstop that’s sure to get a lot of people talking this coming spring.
It’s hard to believe that Starlin Castro is now the longest tenured Cub as he has been the team’s starting shortstop over the past five seasons. After a rough year in 2013, he rebounded well and slashed .292/.339/.438 with 33 doubles, 14 home runs, 65 RBI and four stolen bases. Had he not missed most of September with a high ankle sprain, we may have been talking about how Castro posted the best numbers of his career. He did do so on defense posting a career high .973 fielding percentage with 15 errors although UZR/150 rated Castro out to be about average.
Starlin Castro is still just 24 (turns 25 on March 24) and with an improved lineup could still be coming into his own. It will be interesting to see where in the batting order Joe Maddon puts Castro.
It will also be interesting to see if Maddon rests Castro or gives anyone else on the roster any reps at short this year. The two with the inside track for time there are Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara.
Javier Baez played 30 games at shortstop filling in for the injured Castro and batted .159/.240/.283 with two doubles, four home runs and seven RBI. He was a below average shortstop defensively and will likely only get time there in an emergency situation.
Arismendy Alcantara did not play any games at short with the big league club, but has a lot of experience there in the minors. If he is expected to play the super utility role, he will probably play shortstop at some point during the spring, but like Baez will only do so in an emergency as he was not a good fielder there either.
Non-roster invitees Chris Valaika and Jonathan Herrera may also earn some reps at short if Baez or Alcantara go back to the minors for more seasoning. The two are expected to battle for a utility job with the team during Spring Training and both are experienced at a variety of positions. Valaika and Herrera are about average defensively at the position if they are needed.
The elephant in the room when it comes to shortstop is Addison Russell. When the front office acquired him last summer in the Jeff Samardzija trade it raised a lot of eyebrows. Russell is considered by many to be among the top five prospects in the game and with Baez set to play second, Castro at shortstop and Kris Bryant at third, it brings to mind where Russell fits in. He played just 68 games last year due to injury, but still posted strong numbers hitting .295/.350/.508 with 14 doubles, 13 home runs, 45 RBI and six stolen bases.
Scouting reports say that Russell has the hands and footwork to play a solid shortstop, but his long release raise some questions if he can make the hard throws deep in the hole. That long release could cause an issue at second as well, but the Cubs will likely try Russell all over the infield in the spring and in Iowa to determine where he best fits moving forward.
For the first time in his career, Starlin Castro will have some pressure in the spring. With three young players hot on his heels for his position, it’ll be up to him to show the front office that he should be the Cubs shortstop long term. If the Cubs are to have any shot at contending, a career season would be ideal from Castro. If not, the young guys might get their chance sooner rather than later.