Comping Castro

Since a fantastic autumn in the Arizona Fall League, I would argue no prospect has been lauded more this winter than Cubs SS Starlin Castro. The hype machine is in full force in Mesa, as just this week we’ve seen Carrie Muskat of profile his Spring Training debut, and Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune interview Ryan Theriot on potentially moving to second base. Thankfully, the notions of Castro beginning the season in the Majors have passed, but living a mile south of Wrigley Field, I can report Cubs fans will be clamoring for the call-up everyday the soon-to-be 20 year old gets two hits in Des Moines while Mike Fontenot gets none in Chicago.

Just between Muskat and Sullivan’s articles, we have been thrown comparisons to Edgar Renteria, Hanley Ramirez and Miguel Tejada. That’s 13 All-Star games between the three of them, for a man that has just one year of full-season baseball under his belt. Castro hit .299/.342/.392 between the Florida State and Southern Leagues last season (a brief aside to link to Justin Inaz’ great article at the Hardball Times yesterday concerning Minor League run environments. There, you’ll see Castro was narrowly above-average in both leagues.) But I think we can do better than lazy comparisons to three Latin shortstops, none of whom mirror Castro’s developmental path.

I set out to find some proper comparison points to Castro, given the assumption that the hype machine propels him to the Majors this season. Using my newly renewed subscription at Baseball-Reference’s Play Index, I queried for players that made their Major League debuts and crossed the rookie threshold at the age of 20. This yielded a total of 52 players. If I limit this to middle infielders, the list goes down to 12. One step further still, seven of them have some Minor League data available through Baseball-Reference. What would we do without Sean Forman?

Dalton Jones, Garry Templeton, Danny Ainge, Roberto Alomar, Jose Reyes, Jose Lopez and Elvis Andrus. Collectively, this is a group that hit .261/.301/.364 as 20-year-old, Major League rookie middle infielders. The previous season, at 19 in the Minor Leagues, our comparison group hit .281 and slugged .397. The majority (Alomar, Andrus, Lopez and half-seasons of Reyes and Templeton) played in Double-A, and hit .300 and slugged .429. Castro’s batting average is right in line, given his superior ability to make contact with the baseball. But his isolated power, just .108 in Double-A and .093 overall, are below the level of the players I’ve compared him to.

Looking further, I want to note that Jose Reyes and Garry Templeton had very similar development paths as Castro, splitting time between the Florida State League and Double-A in their age 19 season. Let’s look at how they did:

Reyes        288/353/462   30   35    27   327
Castro       302/340/391   19   41    23   387
Templeton    264/288/338   12   42    16   361

And in Double-A:

Double-A   League   AVG/OBP/SG   BB   SO   XBH   PA
Templeton   Texas   401/424/531   6    2    15   184
Reyes        East   287/331/425  16   42    26   295
Castro      South   288/347/396  10   12     9   122

It’s clear that the Cubs prospect is Reyes’ inferior; Baseball America would rank Reyes its third overall prospect after the 2002 season, while Castro came in at 16 when the magazine released their list yesterday. Reyes displayed more patience and more power, Castro a better knack for contact. What interests me is the comparison between Templeton and Castro – both were impatient contact hitters with questionable power profiles.

In 1976, the St. Louis Cardinals returned Templeton to their Double-A affiliate, and he hit .321/.351/.483 in 106 games. On August 9, with the Major League squad 25 games behind in the standings, they called up Templeton and inserted him at shortstop, asking veteran Don Kessinger to move to second base. Templeton hit .291/.314/.362 down the stretch, and would play the next five years holding down the position, posting a 104 OPS+ with two All-Star appearances in that time. Templeton never developed home run power, he never developed patience, and when his speed started to go (and the BABIP with it), Templeton was no longer a useful player. Using the WAR historical database, we see that Templeton was 25.2 wins above replacement player in his 16-year career. I think Castro can be better than this (he’s already a little more patient than Templeton, and walks are preached more than ever nowadays), though his four-year peak of 14 WAR seems appropriate.

The Cubs should follow the Templeton model out of Spring Training, and re-assign Castro to the Southern League. It’s simply not fair to assign him to face older pitchers after 122 decent plate appearances and a great BABIP-driven Arizona Fall League sample. But for a team that doesn’t figure to be 25 games back on August 9, calling up Castro for more than a September cup of coffee doesn’t seem prudent. Let’s keep the talk of Castro, the Major Leaguer, to a minimum, and see if the Templeton comparison still holds water a year from now.

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Couldn’t agree more. Thanks for adding some sanity to the hype and comparisons.