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Starlin Castro’s hot start for Yankees this year not all that surprising

Starlin Castro of the New York Yankees runs

Starlin Castro of the New York Yankees runs home to score on a hit off the bat of Jacoby Ellsbury in the seventh inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on May 16, 2017 in Kansas City, Mo. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Brian Davidson

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Starlin Castro has been mentioned by many as one of the early-season surprises that have led to the Yankees’ strong start.

Joe Girardi says that’s only because many people have short memories.

“I think people have forgotten how good this kid was,” Girardi said before Thursday night’s game against the Royals. “This was a really good player.”

Castro, 27, debuted with the Cubs at the age of 20 in 2010 and hit .300 with a .347 on-base percentage in 125 games. The following year he hit .307/.341/.432 and led the NL in hits with 207. Castro, drafted by the Cubs at the age of 16 out of the Dominican Republic, was a three-time All-Star by the time he was 24.

“I remember there being a lot of excitement about him being a big-time prospect when he arrived,” said Chase Headley, who as a member of the Padres from 2007-14 saw quite a bit of Castro. “He was kind of thrust right into the spotlight there and I remember him performing really well, getting 200 hits. He’s got great hand-eye coordination, barrels a lot of balls. He’s been as good this year as I’ve ever seen him.”

Castro, came up as a shortstop but his performance lagged after his last All-Star appearance in 2014. In 2015 another shortstop phenom, Addison Russell, was deemed ready and Cubs manager Joe Maddon shifted Castro to second in mid-August of that season. Castro produced a .353/.373/.588 slash line the rest of the way, helping Chicago grab an NL wild-card bid, but once the Cubs signed Ben Zobrist after the 2015 season, he was expendable and dealt to the Yankees.

Castro went through some growing pains last season, in the field and at the plate. Strike zone discipline was a significant issue — he struck out 118 times in 577 at-bats – but Castro did hit 21 home runs and drove in 70 runs.

To this point of the 2017, it’s all come together.

The second baseman went 3-for-4 in Wednesday’s victory, allowing him to enter Thursday night hitting .351/.387/.545 with seven homers and 26 RBIs. He’s struck out 28 times but has shown far better discipline.

“I don’t give away at-bats,” Castro said. “And don’t chase pitches and try to do too much. That’s the best thing I’ve been doing right now.”

Headley said it’s the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately nature of sports that has people surprised at Castro’s start.

“People forget,” Headley said. “You have a down year and it’s not that you had a down year, it’s, ‘oh, you’re not a very good player anymore.’ All of a sudden when you come back and you’re a good player, it’s ‘oh my gosh, what did you figure out?’ Well, nothing, really. I’m just better than I’ve played the last couple years. I feel like that’s the nature of the business. People can forget what you’re capable of. It happens to everybody.”

Headley continued: “It doesn’t surprise me that he’s been very productive. He’s just a talented player. If he controls the strike zone the way he is now, there’s no reason he can’t continue to perform at a really high level.”

Though it’s not necessarily a goal, Castro smiled when asked if he thought he could contend for a batting title (his highest single-season average was the .307 he hit in 2011).

“If I keep that approach and do the same thing and be consistent, yeah, I can do it,” Castro said. “I know the talent I have if I’m healthy. Keep grinding it out and not give away at-bats.”

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