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Castro could be best leadoff option for Cubs

Published: Monday, Feb. 17, 2014 10:36 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Feb. 17, 2014 10:38 p.m. CDT
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(Scott Strazzante)
MCT Starlin Castro had the team's highest on-base percentage out of the leadoff position during the 2013 season. That makes him the most likely candidate for the top of the Cubs' order in 2014.

MESA, Ariz. – Starlin Castro batted leadoff in 40 games in 2013, and early indications are that's where he'll start 2014.

Castro's .315 on-base percentage at the top of the order was the highest of any of his lineup spots last season for the Cubs, but that's hardly an ideal mark for a leadoff batter.

Manager Rick Renteria said he believes Castro, aided by confidence, could have a rebound season, whether or not he stays at the top of the order.

"Numbers are simply results," Renteria said Sunday, adding that he will evaluate other candidates in spring training. "And we need to figure out what an individual is doing that is creating the result. If we can change the approach or mindset, these numbers might be able to change.

"So, they might not necessarily show themselves as being a leadoff-type guy or a potential power guy or No. 3 guy. The numbers will tell you where he fits in that lineup. The numbers might not be there yet, but it doesn't mean they won't be.''

Although Castro has run-producing talent, he might be the Cubs' best option at the top.

"We have the whole spring to develop a scheme as to who might fall into that role," Renteria said. "Anyone can look through all the numbers and see the on-base guy, in particular. It's not necessarily the easiest piece to find. And even perceived on-base guys aren't the [players with the] highest rate."

Ryan's hope: Reliever James Russell said he and Jeff Samardzija were surprised to learn that former teammate Ryan Dempster announced he won't pitch in 2014 because of health and family reasons.

"I remember my first camp I had a rollaway locker right in front of the shower, and I was terrified," Russell recalled. "The first person to say something to me was Demp, and he said, 'They gave me an open locker next to me. Why don't you get away from that rollaway locker and come put your stuff in here?' I wasn't going to do it, and the next day I come in, and all my stuff is next to him.

"The stuff he does for young guys and the team is amazing."

Russell hopes Dempster returns to pitch, adding that he is respected in Chicago and around baseball.

Russell recalled during Kerry Wood's bowling tournament when Dempster arrived dressed as Bill Murray's character in "Kingpin."

"It was one of the funniest things I've seen," Russell said. "And he made us rookies [perform] the Cubs' 'American Idol,' which was a big hit with everybody."

After one season, Russell recalled that he and then-Cubs pitcher Andrew Cashner were treated to a private viewing of Blackhawks practice and later fitted with equipment to skate on the United Center ice.

"Ryan is one of the only guys who could get that worked out," Russell said.

Clean slate? Outfielder Brett Jackson, the Cubs' first pick in the 2009 draft, said he isn't thinking about his prolific strikeout rate as he tries to raise his stock this spring.

"It's something that I'm not going to acknowledge moving forward," said Jackson, who has struck out 417 times in 1,162 at-bats over the last three minor league seasons. "I think the last couple years have been a search for finding myself at the plate and overcoming the pressures I was putting on myself, the pressures I was getting externally. Obviously, the strikeouts were in the corner of my mind at the time, and being told I was striking out too much.

"Not to put the blame on anyone but myself, and I take full accountability. But I'm confident in the adjustments I've made and that's something I can improve on and better myself at in the future.''

Jackson, 25, said he has recovered from turf toe and a sore right calf that limited him to 95 games in the minors last summer. He added that he worked this winter on becoming a well-rounded player from a mental and physical aspect and benefited from conducting a couple of clinics with youths in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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