Cubs’ Starlin Castro ready for the Junior Lake effect at shortstop
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org March 16, 2012 10:42PM
Starlin Castro (above) took the shortstop job from Ryan Theriot in 2010 and played in the All-Star Game last season, but he might not necessarily be the Cubs’ cornerstone option. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times
Updated: April 19, 2012 8:38AM
MESA, Ariz. — It was barely two years ago that Ryan Theriot uttered maybe the most infamous words of his Cubs career: ‘‘He’s going to have to come and get it.’’
Three months later, Starlin Castro did just that, taking the shortstop job from Theriot. Three teams later, Theriot was in the San Francisco Giants’ lineup against the Cubs in a spring training game Friday at HoHoKam Park.
Not that it’s necessarily Castro’s turn now, but the kid shortstop might be hearing a few echoes from the past, if not the footsteps of the Cubs’ next big thing at shortstop.
Castro smiled when asked whether he issued the Theriot Challenge to Junior Lake.
‘‘Yeah, I tell him all the time,’’ said Castro, who has become close to Lake since the two signed as free agents from the Dominican Republic three months apart in the winter of 2006-07. ‘‘I tell him to get ready, be ready. . . . You can play in the big leagues soon — very fast — like me.’’
Even if they play the same position?
‘‘I tell him, don’t worry about it,’’ Castro said.
That’s the thing about the Cubs’ shortstop situation this time around. After nearly two decades of instability there in the post-Shawon Dunston era, Lake’s major-league debut won’t be about another changing of the guard.
If it goes according to design, it’ll look more like another cornerstone in the competitive, homegrown core the Cubs are trying to build.
‘‘The guy’s a specimen,’’ manager Dale Sveum said after getting an extended, up-close look at Lake the first month of spring training. ‘‘I mean, he’s got some kind of athletic body. He just needs to keep playing, get some more at-bats, because that’s a pretty good talent coming.’’
The Cubs saw that when they gave Lake a six-figure signing bonus in February 2007, worth more than twice Castro’s. The scouting department’s faith was rewarded — so far — with Lake’s rise to Class AA last year and an exceptional Arizona Fall League.
As much as his stock rose, so did his frame — as much as two inches since last fall, say those who have followed him closely. He’s listed at 6-2 but appears bigger.
He’s fast and powerful and has defensive range and a stronger arm than Castro. Even on the day he was optioned from big-league camp Thursday, he delivered a home run as his parting shot.
Which left just two questions: How soon will the Cubs see him again? And what position will he be playing when they do?
‘‘Could I see him move to third? I think he’s one of those athletes that could probably play anywhere on the field,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘Obviously, when that comes up, it’ll depend on what need we have, position-wise.’’
Early in their minor-league careers, Castro and Lake shared shortstop — each playing half a season at short and half at second — until the Cubs split them up to get them at short full-time.
One thing’s for sure: If Lake wants shortstop, he’s going to have to come and get it from the guy who played there in the All-Star Game last year.
Lake smiled when told of the Theriot throw-down.
‘‘I don’t know,’’ he said. ‘‘Maybe in the future I can play third and short. I can play second, too. You never know.’’
Sveum said he has no trouble seeing Lake as a shortstop even as a taller, stronger version of Castro.
‘‘Cal Ripken’s pretty big; he did OK,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘[Troy] Tulowitzki’s pretty big; he does just fine. I don’t think that has anything to do with it, especially this [day and age], when you can have a two-way player possibly, somebody who hits home runs, catches the ball, steals bases, the whole package.’’
Said Castro: ‘‘I play other positions, too.’’
It could create a rare luxury of choices for the Cubs. And maybe sooner than a lot of people think.
‘‘He’s coming fast, too,’’ Castro said, ‘‘like me. I just tell him, be ready because you never know when.’’