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Leaner Starlin Castro primed for ‘very important year’ with Cubs

Updated: March 21, 2014 3:49PM



MESA, Ariz. — Shortstop Starlin Castro, the Cubs’ oft-criticized two-time All-Star, worked personally this offseason with strength coach Tim Buss in the Dominican Republic, then spent a month at an elite training academy in Florida, to be more prepared for spring training than he ever has, he said.

But the key to the return to All-Star form he expects in 2014 might have more to do with “cleaning out” his mind and a conversation with former teammate Alfonso Soriano over the winter.

“He told me you have pressure this year,” Castro said. “He said you have to come to spring training, look good and be ready, that everybody’s looking [at the fact] I had a tough year. ‘Try and take over now.’ ”

By the time he showed up Wednesday for the first day of full-squad workouts, he looked stronger and leaner, with a perceptible new air of veteran confidence.

“It’s a very important year for me,” said Castro, who will still be 23 when he opens his fifth big-league season.

The mental “clean out” process wasn’t exactly easy. His .245 season and brief demotion to eighth in the batting order were only part of it.

A lawsuit from a former youth coach was filed against him, seeking three percent of his big-league earnings, based on a contract his father signed with the coach when Castro was underage.

Castro’s attorneys make the case that his father didn’t have power to sign away future salary. Castro also said the paper his father signed only covered his original $45,000 signing bonus as an amateur free agent at age 16 — an obligation long ago paid, he said.

“It’s almost over,” Castro said. “Everything’s looking good so far.”

That’s what he’s counting on with his fresh baseball start this year, too. He laughed at the realization that he’s suddenly one of the older veterans in the clubhouse and talked about setting an example for the top minor-leaguers knocking on the door.

He also seemed impressed with “positive” new manager Rick Renteria but dismissed a suggestion that fired manager Dale Sveum had been too hard on him.

Bottom line for him in 2014: “I have [something] to prove.”

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Twitter: @GDubCub



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