If you took Robinson Cano’s aggressiveness at the plate but cut his hitting abilities in half, you would have Starlin Castro.
After an overall disappointing first half to the 2016 season (aside from the opening week), Castro was able to catch a second wind after the All-Star break and finish the season strong. His 109 wRC+ was second best on the Yankees during that stretch, behind only Gary Sanchez, who played ridiculously well after the trade deadline.
Even with that late turnaround, Castro turned in an overall mediocre campaign, finishing with a .270/.300/.433 slash for 2016, further cementing himself as a serviceable but average second baseman who may never reach the upside he is believed to have.
For Castro’s sake, it will be imperative that he find that upside in the 2017 season, or he could find his way out of pinstripes as promising middle infield prospects lurk in the minor leagues in the form of Gleyber Torres and Jorge Mateo.
Castro is under contract through 2019, but the fact that the Yankees acquired him for a fairly cheap asking price last offseason could make him an expendable trade piece should one of the youngsters prove that they are ready for the big leagues.
Torres and Mateo are both natural shortstops, but the ever-increasing production out of Didi Gregorius would suggest that Torres or Mateo (whoever receives the call first), could move to second base to form a double play combo with the current Yankees shortstop.
Torres, the coveted prospect received from the Aroldis Chapman trade, recently lit up the Arizona Fall League and earned the MVP honors. The top prospect in the Yankees’ system according to Baseball Prospectus is just 19 years old and improving by the day. Mateo had a tough 2016 in the minors after taking spring training reps with the Yanks, but is still ranked closely behind Torres in terms of Yankees prospects, coming in at third on Baseball Prospectus’ recent rankings. He has taken a few reps in center field, but he will also likely see time at second base this season playing alongside Torres. Mateo also has unprecedented speed that could make for a valuable leadoff hitter in years to come, when the likes of Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury say their goodbyes.
For Castro to hold off the ascension of these prospects in the near future, he needs to improve his defense and his eye at the plate. As mentioned earlier, Cano was always an aggressive swinger for the Yanks, but he was one of the most naturally gifted hitters in all of baseball, so his itch to swing was warranted (and his plate discipline steadily improved before becoming a free agent). Castro cannot hit like Cano, but swings like he can. Castro was in the top 20 in baseball last season in swinging at pitches out of the zone, while carrying a microscopic walk rate. Meanwhile, in the field, his defensive WAR ranked 18th among second baseman according to FanGraphs (-4.4).
Torres arriving in the Bronx is inevitable, while Mateo is probable if he can get his numbers back to where they were in 2015. If Castro can rebound in 2017 and rise above his average caliber, he could delay that process and give the Yankees a reason to allow the youngsters more time to develop. Castro has been up-and-down most of his career and is still just 26 years old, so it will not be easy to tell if he has really turned a corner or not. His 21 home runs last season make him valuable in 2017 given the team’s desperate need for long balls, but beyond that, who knows. The Yankees will have every reason to shop him around if he doesn’t improve next year.