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Trammell: Castro ahead of the curve

Trammell: Castro ahead of the curve

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MESA, Ariz. -- Alan Trammell knows all about the pressure of being a 19-year-old in the big leagues. Trammell was that age when he made his Major League debut.

Trammell's debut with Detroit was Sept. 9, 1977, and he played 19 games that year, the first of 20 seasons with the Tigers.

Cubs prospect Starlin Castro is 19 -- he turns 20 on March 24 -- and isn't expected to be on the Opening Day roster, but he isn't far away. Trammell can see lots of good things in the young shortstop, an MLB.com Top 50 Prospect who will be one of the most watched players in Cubs camp.

"I'd say he's ahead of the curve," Trammell said of Castro, who played at Class A Daytona, Double-A Tennessee, the Arizona Fall League and Dominican Winter League last year. "I'm very anxious to see him in the games."

Trammell, who turned 52 on Feb. 21, has watched Castro during fielding drills and had a few early sessions with him.

"Everything he does is what you're looking for," the Cubs bench coach said. "He's quiet, attentive, he gets after it."

Trammell was able to see Castro play one game in the AFL, but the shortstop didn't get many chances. It was what Castro did when he didn't have to make a play that impressed Trammell.

"I saw his ready-preparation was good," Trammell said. "A lot of times, guys you watch are sloppy and they get careless.

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"What he's been taught -- and I've talked to Ryne Sandberg and others -- they say he carries himself a little bit above, not like a normal 19-year-old. Those are all good traits. Now we need to see him in a game to evaluate."

Castro won't start Thursday in the Cubs' Cactus League opener against Oakland but is expected to sub for Ryan Theriot at shortstop at some point in the game. Some have projected Castro to be the Cubs' first All-Star shortstop since Shawon Dunston.

"I know it's a great story," Trammell said. "I can remember back in the day, the one thing going against him is -- unlike myself and a couple of my teammates who were moved through quickly -- we were a rebuilding team, and this is not."

The Cubs are not in rebuilding mode. Manager Lou Piniella has said Castro most likely will open in the Minor Leagues and get more experience. But before the games even start, he's also said if Theriot was sidelined for an extended period of time, Piniella wouldn't hesitate to call up Castro.

Trammell said the shortstop isn't the only one who seems to be a good fit this spring. The Cubs' future is very bright.

"Not only Castro, but I've seen it with some of the other younger players here -- they're not going to tell you this, but inside, they should be thinking, 'I can play with these guys,'" Trammell said. "These guys can move ahead and play a couple months in their seasons and move up."

That list would include Andrew Cashner, Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters and Rafael Dolis, among others.

Castro got off to a slow start last season at Daytona, batting .200 in the first 19 games. But he batted .302 in 96 games before he was promoted to Tennessee in early August and batted .288 in 31 games there. Sandberg saw Castro first-hand; he was the Tennessee manager and led the Smokies into the Southern League playoffs. Castro started at short for the team. He then joined the Mesa Solar Sox in the AFL, where he hit .376 in 26 games. He's been on the fast track.

Trammell, a four-time Gold Glove winner, is looking at Castro's defensive skills.

"I like the fact that he's had good schooling," Trammell said. "Sometimes you bring up a young shortstop and he might be too flashy and has a problem with the routine ball. [Castro's] got it right.

"I know he's got some game and he can do some acrobatic things. The difference between a young player and a proven Major League player is the consistency. They can come out and play, but what happens when things start going bad? Can they catch themselves? Those are questions we can't quite answer yet."

Trammell doesn't care how old a player is. He's proof that doesn't matter.

"It can be done," he said about teenage big leaguers. "I do have that experience to know how it feels. I could play defense at that time, and I was ahead of the curve as far as that goes."

Shortstops had a different role in Trammell's day. The scout who signed Trammell told him if he could hit .250 and play good defense, he could play in the big leagues for a long time. That was 1976.

"Now, [shortstop] can be a very productive position offensively," Trammell said. "We've seen it with guys here in the last 15, 20 years, they've taken it to another level. Play good defense and hit .250, that's more of a utility guy."

The big question is whether Castro is ready for the big leagues now. That will be answered in the next few weeks.

"I believe he can do it," Trammell said. "I believe right now, if you pinned him down, in his mind, he would say, 'I think I can play here.'"

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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