by Kyle Johansen
One surprise pickup on the waiver wire this past season was rookie shortstop Starlin Castro. Heading into 2010, Castro was rated as the 16th best prospect by Baseball America, but this ranking was due in large part to his defensive skills. An eye-opening spring training performance earned him an extended look in Arizona and after a month at Double-A, which saw him hit .376/.421/.569, the Cubs had no choice but to bring the kid up to replace a struggling Ryan Theriot. In 506 major league plate appearances the 20-year old posted the following numbers:
- .300 Batting Average (139 hits)
- 3 HR’s
- 41 RBI
- 53 Runs
- 10 SB’s
- .347 On Base Percentage
- .408 Slugging Percentage
Starlin’s number one fantasy asset is his batting average, so let’s see if he’s a legitimate .300 hitter. At first glance, a BABIP of .346 looks like it will see some correction but he has consistently posted high BABIPs in the minors, bottoming out at .323. The high BABIP is partially explained by an encouraging line drive rate of 19.5%, but is more clearly illuminated by a ground ball rate of 51.3%. Starlin also managed to make contact at a clip of 85.9%, leading one to believe that batting average is a skill Castro owns and should be able to sustain.
While he should be a strong contributor in average, unless Castro drastically changes his approach at the plate his batted ball profile is showing a player we can effortlessly project for single digit home runs. Hitting just 29% of his balls in the air, any power potential Castro possess will not see the light of day unless that number drastically increases. He has a free and fluid swing at the plate that, while aggressive, consistently works the pitcher by fouling off bad pitches. When he makes solid contact, Castro’s swing is tailor-made to generate velocity, translating into 31 doubles and 5 triples in just 463 at bats. Once his approach shifts to hitting more fly balls, the power should be there. At this point though, with just a 2.6% HR/FB in 2010, don’t expect power any time soon.
To make up for the lack of power Castro needs to steal bases to even be worthy of draft consideration. To his detriment, the rookie was not very successful in 2010 with just 10 SB in 18 attempts. The good news is that he does possess good speed, so he’ll continue to steal bases; we just can’t safely count on any more than 15 at this point. To his advantage will be the amount of at bats he’ll see at the top of the lineup, and the amount of chances he should be provided with given his contact skills.
A comparable player to Castro in my eyes is Martin Prado. Both profile as line drive hitting, high-contact players who would rather swing the bat than take a free pass (2010 stats):
Starlin Castro (age 20)
- BB% – 5.7
- K% – 15.3
- LD% – 19.5
Martin Prado (age 26)
- BB% – 6.1
- K% – 14.4
- LD% – 21.0
Prado and Castro also have comparable power numbers. At both Double-A and Triple-A in ’07 and ’08 Prado put up an ISO of .105. Similarly, Castro posted an ISO of .108 in Double-A last year and then again after being called up to the majors this year. Prado has recently seen his power develop, putting up an ISO of .140 for the Braves in 2008 and then .158 in 2009 before settling in at league average with a .152 in 2010. For fantasy purposes in 2011, Castro hasn’t yet developed the power that Prado has, but it should be on the horizon.
As far as draft position, I see Castro in a similar place as Prado heading into this past season. A middle infielder who was going to contribute in average and chip in elsewhere, Prado’s 2010 ADP which ranged between picks 200-245 should make a good starting point for where to draft Castro next year. In a 12-team league, that’s between rounds 17 and 21, which to me would be a nice bargain for any fantasy team.
If you miss out on a top shortstop and want some depth, Starlin makes a quality late round target. An OK option at short, I love him at the MI position. You’re guaranteed plenty of at bats and are assured of a high batting average. It won’t be exciting to watch the stolen bases slowly accumulate, and every home run will be celebrated, but there is little if any downside here and there’s always the chance of a breakout.