For most of his brief MLB career, Starlin Castro has hit atop the Cubs lineup or out of the two-hole. But new manager Dale Sveum said he's considering batting his soon-to-be 22-year-old shortstop third in 2012.
The three-spot in the lineup is usually the domain of power hitters who can drive in the guys hitting at the top -- NL players hitting third slugged .457 last year, the highest of any lineup spot. Castro, with a career .422 slugging percentage, might seem like an odd choice for a meat-of-the-order spot. But Sveum and the Cubs are likely betting that the 6-foot, 190 pound Castro grows into more of a power hitter and continues his second-half slugging from 2011.
Castro hit a grounder 53% of the time that he put the ball in play from April-June last year, well above the 44% league average. With all of those worm-burners, Castro hit just two home runs in 360 plate appearances. He hit choppers on pitches at the knees far more than most hitters. Check out his ground ball rate by pitch location, and then the league average:
Once the calendar turned to July, however, Castro's approach was more like that of a guy capable of driving in runs. His ground ball rate on low pitches in the zone decreased mightily:
Castro hit grounders 44% of the time from July through September. With more skyward contact, he hit eight home runs in 355 plate appearances. Overall, Castro added 10 feet of distance on his fly balls hit from April-June (261 feet) to July-September (271 feet).
While Castro wasn't a huge power threat in the minors (.421 slugging), either, his youth, size and change in approach mean he could emerge as a 15-20 homer guy as he matures. In placing Castro sixth on his "Top 50 MLB Players Age 25 or Under," ESPN's Keith Law went so far as to say, "He's likely to keep posting .300 averages and should end up with 20-plus homers and slugging percentages around .500, perhaps even better if he can work on getting into better counts." Castro might not be a middle-order masher yet, but he could be that guy one day.