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Cubs hot-hitting shortstop Starlin Castro wants a Gold Glove, focusing on ‘D’

StarlCastro Chris Johnson

Starlin Castro, Chris Johnson

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Updated: March 21, 2013 6:44AM

MESA, Ariz. — Last year it was Junior Lake. This year Javy Baez is the flavor of the month.

Next year — who knows?

But Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro has already seen it before in his young career and knows Baez won’t be the last young stud shortstop to come to big-league spring training eyeing the two-time All-Star’s position.

Castro doesn’t know Baez well but in their few conversations has stressed humility and hard work for the kid known for his cockiness when drafted ninth overall in 2011.

And, says Castro, “I tell him to keep going hard. It’s a business. Try to take my job, like I did when I was [in the minors coming up]. Try your best and see what you can do.’’

It’s not exactly the same sentiment incumbent Ryan Theriot expressed three years ago: “He’s going to have to come and get it.” Three months later, Castro did.

On the other hand, like Castro in 2010, Baez is 20 and the organization’s top-ranked and fastest-rising prospect.

The biggest difference is Castro might be rising every bit as fast, maybe even as a defensive player.

And that figures to be a significant undercurrent playing through this season.

“I see myself as my whole career is going to be at shortstop,’’ Castro said. “And not just as a shortstop, but a good shortstop that can win a Gold Glove and hit, and everything.’’

Hitting has looked like the easy part for Castro, who already has 529 career hits at age 23 and who, when moved to the middle of the order last year, wound up leading all shortstops with 78 RBIs.

But defensively? The new front office and field staff had their doubts coming in last year, but Castro’s improvement last season — even with another conspicuous brain cramp in San Francisco — erased much of the doubt.

“He’s always going to be able to make plays at the extremities of his range; he’s very athletic. And he’s got a great arm,’’ team president Theo Epstein said. “But as we sat here last year, it was a bit of an open question in the organization whether he could stay at shortstop long term. I think now we all feel he definitely can and be a real good one.’’

It’s one reason Castro has a new seven-year, $60 million contract — something he says will allow him to “relax and just play baseball” knowing his family is financially secure.

Castro said he intends to “eliminate” the brain cramps that have embarrassed him in recent years — like forgetting the number of outs in a critical situation in that San Francisco game. And the infamous daydreaming episode of two years ago, when he was strolling with his back to the plate to spit seeds while the pitcher was delivering the ball.

He says he’s spending a lot of extra time on his defensive preparation and effort this year. “Because I know that God gives me [the ability to] hit. That’s why I was working every day on my defense [this winter], because I want to be better.

“I want to be like [second baseman Darwin] Barney and win a Gold Glove.’’

Manager Dale Sveum wants to see the same thing and said he likes what he’s seen from Castro so far.

“It’s one thing I challenged him to do: ‘Your next step now in all this is to win a Gold Glove,’ ” Sveum said. “Obviously that takes a lot of hard work and being focused for 150 pitches a game and 162 games. He’s got the ability to do it. The rest is up to him.’’

Whatever ideas guys like Lake or Baez might have in mind.

“He’s real good,’’ Castro says of Baez, who’s expected to open the season at advanced-A Daytona. “I’m here right now and I like to think I’m going to be with this team my whole career.

“I know he’s got his talent. Let’s see what happens.’’

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