The big story for the New York Yankees in 2016 was trading veterans for prospects at the trade deadline and getting younger. They now have several top prospects in their farm system thanks to general manager Brian Cashman’s machinations in late July, and the franchise is looking to the future.
One player who could either be a big part of that future, or become another casualty of Cashman’s moves in 2017, is Starlin Castro. Castro had his usual up-and-down season during his first season in New York. He started off strong during the first week of April, but overall had a disappointing first half of the season at the plate. Castro rebounded in the second half, with a good August and September, was second on the team in wRC+ (109)—Gary Sanchez was the leader—and finished with a .270/.300/.433 line overall.
The main problem for the 26-year-old second baseman is that he has always been streaky at the plate. If you look at his splits from 2015—his last year with Chicago—he started off the season strong, batting .325/.349/.410 in April, but cooled off substantially in May to the tune of a .221/.264/.274 line in 27 games. His struggles continued until August, when he batted .296/.315/.437. Castro’s hot hitting continued in September; he batted .369/.400/.655 with five home runs in 27 games.
In 2016, it was more of the same for Castro. His April was strong, he looked bad in May, he rebounded a bit in June and July, then he rebounded big time in August and September, hitting 10 home runs—eight in August, two in September.
Notice a pattern?
[graphiq id=”ldsUQpBz9c1″ title=”Starlin Castro 2016 Batting Splits by Month” width=”640″ height=”523″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/ldsUQpBz9c1″ ]
A big reason for Castro’s bounce-back this past August was that he was being more selective at the plate. He was recognizing bad pitches and he was able to lay off them. That is what Castro must continue to do for the rest of his career as a Yankee—however long that may be.
When Castro first signed with the Yankees in December 2015, Cashman said this about the second baseman:
“I like that he’s athletic, I like his age. Between the youth, the flexibility, the right-handed bat, he’s got a history of hitting left-handers. Clearly that’s an area that we needed to better improve our balance in the lineup. It kind of checks off a lot of the boxes here.”
So is Castro still in the Yankees’ future plans? Or will they look to one of the younger guys in the farm system to bolster the lineup in 2018 and 2019? Castro is signed with the Yankees through 2019 with a club option in 2020, and if he is able to continue the improvements he made at the plate late in the season, the Yankees could be rearranging the infield in 2018 and 2019 so Castro can remain at second base.
The two players who could usurp Castro’s place in the lineup if he struggles are Jorge Mateo and Gleyber Torres. Both players are shortstops right now, but Didi Gregorius has that position locked down on the big club—especially after his strong 2016 campaign—so if one of those two young players were to come up to the big club, they would more than likely be asked to play second base to complement Gregorius in the middle infield.
Torres, who was part of the Aroldis Chapman deal, is still very young (19), but he was excellent during the Arizona Fall League and won the league MVP for his efforts. Twenty-one-year-old Mateo, who started as a shortstop, will most likely be moved to second base to form a double play tandem with Torres in 2017. Mateo batted .254/.306/.379 with eight home runs in 113 games for High-A Tampa in 2016. He is also fast and poses a threat on the bases (which Castro no longer does — after stealing 25 bases in 2012, he’s stolen a total of 22 since), which would make him a good leadoff hitter when the time comes.
The key for Castro is to have a strong, and steady, 2017 season. He must be selective at the plate, and while it’s usual for a player to have ups and downs throughout the course of a 162-game season, for Castro, those ups and downs cannot be as extreme as they have been in the past. If he goes through a cold spell next season, it cannot be for months at a time; otherwise, the Yankees may look elsewhere for help in the lineup.