The Brewers start another series with the Cubs tonight, and both teams feature promising rookie shortstops. If you pay attention to the prospect scene, you’ve probably seen a lot of the scouts that write for various outlets answer questions about Alcides Escobar and Starlin Castro. Who’s better right now? Who has the brighter future? Who would you rather have?
As we near the halfway point in September and both have been in the big leagues for most of the season (Castro was called up in early May), I thought it’d be interesting to compare the two.
We knew heading into the season that Escobar wouldn’t be anything special with the bat. Those that were expecting much more than the .249/.300/.347 are probably hanging too much on his minor league numbers. The truth is that he’s never been patient at the plate, and is walking in just about as many at bats this year (6.5%) as he was last year in Nashville (6.6%). His OBP has always been too reliant on his batting average, and as he’s struggled to consistently hit this year, that’s shown.
What most of us didn’t expect were the defensive struggles he went through early in the season. Perhaps we were spoiled by J.J. Hardy, who “turned outs into outs” despite not making many flashy plays, but it was tough to watch him struggle to make routine plays. I do think part of his high error total is the fact that he’s throwing to a shorter-than-average, heavier-than-average, less mobile-than average first baseman, but that’s a topic to discuss another day.
Lately, though, Escobar seems to have shaken the rookie jitters, if he was suffering from any. He’s started to consistently make some pretty amazing plays on defense, and the bat has even come around a bit the past couple months, at least in terms of balls finally falling in for hits.
Compare that season to Castro’s. Castro made a big first impression, driving in six runs in his pro debut, and has continued to have pretty good results at the plate. Entering this series, he’s hitting .317/.359/.436 in 107 games, and will likely get his fair share of Rookie of the Year votes. His 2.3 WAR can mostly be attributed to his bat, as he’s struggled defensively, although that’s probably to be expected of a 20-year old who made a big leap into the majors.
While Castro has outhit Escobar this year, you have to wonder how much of that is just due to BABIP. Castro’s BABIP is a sky-high .364, compared to a below-yet-closer-to-average .277 BABIP for Escobar. Castro’s also walking less often (5.5%) and striking out more often (15%) than Escobar, but again, looking at his minor league averages in those areas (better than Escobar’s at every level) you have to wonder if it’s just Castro struggling to adjust to big league pitching.
It pains me to say this, but moving forward, I have to agree with the general consensus that Castro will end up being the better player. Hell, right now he might be the better player when you consider that he’s nearly four years younger than Escobar and still arguably outplaying him. We can hate the Cubs for their outrageous payroll, but they “grew” this player themselves, and they deserve credit for finding him.