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Castro welcomes Baez — no shortstop rivalry

Updated: March 4, 2014 10:16PM



MESA, Ariz. — Four years ago, when teenager Starlin Castro arrived at spring training as the next big shortstop prospect, incumbent Ryan Theriot threw down the gauntlet:

“He’s going to have to come and get it.”

Barely two months later, he did.

Now Castro is the incumbent, though he’s sidelined for the next week or more with a hamstring injury, and Javy Baez, the Cubs’ top-ranked prospect, is off to another strong start. He’s raising eyebrows and cries from Chicago to Mesa to give him a job out of camp.

Castro’s response to the potential drama: Let him play; there’s room for both shortstops in the lineup.

“To help the team win, if you’re there and I’m there, whatever. I don’t care,” Castro said. “Some people don’t have a good relationship because they’re at the same position. But me and him, no. We’re good friends. We talk a lot.”

Castro, who said Tuesday the hamstring he hurt Sunday is already much better, has seen enough of Baez — and enough undermanned Cubs teams in his four big-league seasons — to encourage the kid to get to the majors as quick as possible.

“I tell him, ‘Play hard, and you’ll be up there no matter what,’ ” Castro said. “ ‘I don’t know where, but you’ll be there because you’ve got great talent and you play the game the right way.’ ”

Castro has the luxury of knowing he doesn’t have to worry about a challenge to his position anytime soon. General manager Jed Hoyer said it the day camp opened, calling the idea of moving Castro from shortstop “off the table.”

Cubs officials also have repeatedly said Baez will open the season at shortstop at Class AAA Iowa.

“Obviously, for us, the idea of Baez is in the future,” manager Rick Renteria said. “So right now I’m glad Starlin feels that way, and I’m sure the feeling is mutual. They both respect each other immensely. Somewhere down the road, when that happens, I’m sure it’ll be nice to see.”

The consensus among evaluators — and, apparently, guys in the Cubs’ clubhouse — is that Baez’s much anticipated debut is coming this year.

“I don’t make that decision, but that can be good for us, if he’s here,” Castro said. “He can hit, no doubt about it. He’s a good player. Everybody knows that.”

Baez will see time at second and third before he’s done this spring, team officials said. That likely will give them an idea of where he’ll play when he makes his debut.

Renteria said the kid whose bat speed has been compared to Gary Sheffield’s still has adjustments to make with big-league-caliber off-speed stuff and work to do on defense.

Others who know the big leagues well believe Baez should get a shot to prove he can’t do it.

“I’ve seen enough of Baez to enjoy watching him play,” veteran pitcher Jeff Samardzija said. “My thing about teammates is I like guys who put everything out on the field and leave it all out there — controlled reckless abandon, I guess you can say I like. And I see that in Baez. He plays with a chip on his shoulder. He has something to prove. I love watching that swing, too.”

Baez, 21, dismisses the so-called drama with Castro — “We need Castro on the team,” he said — and downplays his desire to be in the big leagues on Opening Day.

“I’ll be ready when they tell me,” he said.

The only two things for sure right now:

Castro won’t need any more than 10 exhibition games to be ready for the season.

“Maybe eight games,” he said.

And, regardless of Castro’s health, the Baez Buzz isn’t going away.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Twitter: @GDubCub



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