Castro Playing Beyond his Years

SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. – In a sport notorious for its 30-year-old rookies and a long player development system, the Cubs have, by their standards anyway, a rarity on their hands. Tennessee Smokies shortstop Starlin Castro is enjoying his first weeks in Double-A ball with a number attached to his name that makes his prospect status sky rocket.

The number 19 has nothing to do with baseball statistics or a strange superstition, or even Castro's uniform number; 19 is Castro's age.

Born on March 24, 1990 in the Dominican Republic, this Spanish-speaking teenager is not only the youngest member on the Smokies' roster, but the youngest player in the Southern League, beating out West Tennessee shortstop Carlos Triunfel by little under a month.

"It feels good. I never thought I would be here at this age," Castro says through an interpreter of his rapid ascension through the Cubs' system.

Signed by the Cubs in October of 2006, Castro spent his first year of pro ball playing in the Dominican Summer League at age 17. In 2008, Castro awed the Cubs' brass in the Arizona Rookie League, batting .311 in 51 games.

Castro impressed the Cubs so much that they decided to make an unconventional move with the then 18-year-old.: they skipped Castro two levels to start the 2009 season at Class High-A Daytona.

"It was a big surprise. The team wanted to do something good with me," Castro said.

Not even jumping into High-A could slow Castro's development. During his 96-game stay at Daytona, Castro batted .302 and also emerged as a base stealing threat with 22 stolen bases in 33 attempts.

Being only 19 and still in the midst of his first couple of years in the United States, Castro turned to a Spanish-speaking friend for guidance during his time in Daytona.

"Robinson Chirinos was there at the same time and he served as a mentor to me. He told me how to approach the game," Castro said.

As it turned out, the Castro and Chirinos relationship didn't end in Daytona as both players were promoted to Tennessee on August 4.

Castro started hot with the Smokies, recording two hits in both his first two games. He has since cooled off, going hitless in a four game series at Birmingham but rebounding with a hit in three straight games against Jacksonville.

Perhaps the problem Castro had was that the series was at Birmingham. The exuberant youngster says one of the strongest parts of his game is feeding off of the home crowd.

"The fans help to motivate me. They make me that much better and stronger," Castro says.

That motive proved to be true as Castro ended his hitless streak once returning to Smokies Park.

Despite batting only .212 in his first nine games in Double-A, the overtly confident youngster doesn't think it's that much different from the other levels he's performed so well at.

"Nothing is really that difficult. Just having a different coach and different managers takes adjusting time," Castro says.

Castro's confidence is not to be mistaken for cockiness. He is aware there is still work to be done in order to succeed at Double-A and climb the ranks of the organization.

"My batting needs a little improvement. Back in Daytona, I did fine, but here I've started struggling a little bit," Castro said.

Smokies hitting coach Tom Beyers is still getting a grasp for Castro's game, but he recognizes that he may have a prodigy on his hands.

"You see a guy at 19 and he's well ahead of the curve," Beyers said of Castro. "That's a big jump and he's deserved it. He's put the numbers up to be here. A lot of times when you talk about age, sometimes it's a factor, and sometimes guys just play through that. Starlin has done that."

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