Castro praised by peers for talent, attitude
In first All-Star Game, Cubs shortstop playing beyond his years
PHOENIX -- As he stood in the cage and took batting practice hacks while wearing his National League All-Star uniform on Monday afternoon, Starlin Castro's face was filled with a smile that wouldn't go away.
As a first-time All-Star at the age of 21, can you blame him?
"It's real fun because they are stars, so I guess I'm a star, too," Castro said following the NL's batting practice. "Talking to all these players, they're superstars, so that's pretty good."
It was much more challenging for Castro to actually get to Phoenix for the festivities than to make the ascension to All-Star player in just his second Major League season.
The shortstop was supposed to fly out of Pittsburgh on Sunday night, along with Cubs manager Mike Quade, who is a coach for the NL. That flight was not only delayed, but suspended until Monday morning.
Castro missed Media Day with the other All-Stars, but quickly made up for lost time.
"It's a great experience because you see a lot of the players on TV, and today when I was coming out, you see all the players, the All-Stars, in person," Castro said.
Could he have ever imagined being an All-Star at 21?
"I never thought about it," said Castro, who hails from the Dominican Republic. "I just wanted to play hard, and this happened."
The shortstop flew in his parents and two brothers to soak in the experience with him.
It would be a major upset if this winds up being Castro's only All-Star appearance.
NL STARTING NINE
"It's impressive, first of all, to be 21 years old, to not only be in the big leagues but to be here in the All-Star Game," said Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, the man Castro will replace at some point during Tuesday's game.
Tulowitzki has already developed an affinity for Castro.
"I've been a fan of his since Day 1," Tulowitzki said. "I think the biggest thing for me is I want him to keep doing what he's doing. He plays the game the right way. I don't think you see that with all the guys right now. If he can continue to do that, I like his chances for a long time.
"Some guys start to get full of themselves and don't put in the work, but I'm not going to put him in that category. He's a guy that has his head on straight, wants to get better. He's someone I really enjoy watching play."
The same went for the NL's third shortstop, who won't play in the All-Star Game because he's injured.
"I feel happy for him because I've known Starlin for a long time and I can't wait to see him and say congratulations," said the Mets' Jose Reyes. "He's 21, to be here, that's unbelievable. He's a guy who can hit and he plays the game hard, too, so that's good to see."
Castro, who turned 21 in March, is the first Cubs shortstop named to the All-Star team since Shawon Dunston in 1990, and the youngest ever to be selected.
The newest Cubs All-Star burst onto the scene in a big way when he hit a three-run homer in his first at-bat May 7, 2010, in Cincinnati. He had been called up from Double-A Tennessee -- Castro never played at the Triple-A level -- and finished that game with six RBIs, the most by a player in his first big league game. He hasn't stopped hitting. Castro finished 2010 at .300, and began this year with a .348 April.
He's batted first, second and third for the Cubs, and will easily surpass his numbers from last season, when he drove in 41 runs and scored 53 in 125 games. He enters the All-Star break with 10 stolen bases, matching his total from his first season.
"To see him come in and do so well and hold his own is very impressive," first baseman Carlos Pena said of Castro. "It just shows you how talented he is."
This season, Castro has ranked among the NL leaders in hits (117), multi-hit games (34) and batting average (.307), and is batting .314 at home. He's the first Cubs player with eight triples before the All-Star break since Ryne Sandberg had 11 in 1984. Castro also put together an 11-game hitting streak from June 16-27, when he hit .455 (20-for-44).
Pena was named to the 2008 All-Star Game and said Castro's selection this year will likely be the first of many.
"He's humble, respectful of the game and up to this point -- even though he's had incredible success and has confidence -- he has the attitude that 'I don't know it all,' and that's the perfect combination," Pena said. "It's almost like he has all the tools necessary to be an impact player for many years to come."
There have been defensive lapses, but they are mainly youthful mistakes. What Pena likes is that Castro keeps working on the field and in the batting cage to get better.
"It's one thing to be confident, which he is, but to stay that humble, which he has been, I can see success coming his way," Pena said.
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen called Castro "amazing," adding, "This kid has a great chance to be a great player." He's come a long way from Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic, where his father supported the family as a fisherman. Castro signed with the Cubs in October 2006 on the recommendation of scout Jose Serra. He had tried out for 12 other teams, who passed.
"He's got the talent and he's got the tools," Cubs infield coach Ivan DeJesus said of Castro. "Day in and day out, he's coming in with a new attitude. He wants to play that day and do the best he can, just improve every single day. There's more to come to be the finest that he can be."
And make no mistake about it -- Castro does not set small career goals for himself.
He was asked to specify those ambitions.
"To get better -- better than I am," Castro said. "A superstar, a Hall of Fame player -- something like that."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. MLB.com reporter Carrie Muskat contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.