6/24/2014 8:48 P.M. ET
Starlin thriving as Cubs' unlikely cleanup hitter
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro entered Tuesday one RBI shy of matching his 2013 total of 44. The boost in runs driven in is most likely because of Castro's unlikely spot in the batting order.
This season, Castro has batted fourth in 54 games, including Tuesday, although that's not where he should be hitting.
"It wasn't that we wanted to put him in that spot," manager Rick Renteria said. "Based on the guys we had available, the two best guys we had were Anthony Rizzo and Starlin. ... It's not that I think Starlin is a prototypical fourth hitter, but based on the guys I had and how we use them, he ended up filling that slot for us."
Castro has batted second most of his career. But this season, he moved to the cleanup spot on April 25, and has stayed there.
"He's being Starlin Castro," Rizzo said of the shortstop. "It's nice to see. To be hitting home runs and driving in runs from the four-hole is nice."
A two-time All-Star, Castro trails only the Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki in batting average and hits among National League shortstops. Castro already has topped his 2013 home run total, hitting No. 11 on Friday.
Baez, Bryant to showcase talent in Futures Game
CHICAGO -- Shortstop Javier Baez and third baseman Kris Bryant, half of the Cubs' so-called "Core Four," will showcase their talents at the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game, to be played July 13 at Target Field in Minneapolis.
Baez and Bryant, now teammates on Triple-A Iowa, were named to the event on Tuesday. Baez was the Cubs' No. 1 pick in 2011; Bryant in '13.
Baez, 21, was batting .226 with 11 home runs, 11 doubles, two triples and 42 RBIs entering Iowa's game on Tuesday. Bryant, 22, hit his fifth home run on Tuesday in the first inning. At Double-A Tennessee, Bryant led the Southern League in batting average (.355), home runs (22), and RBIs (58). He was promoted on Thursday.
Bryant has been on the fast track since he was selected second overall in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft. In less than a year, he has moved up in the Cubs organization, beginning at Class A short-season Boise. He played in the Arizona Fall League last October, and won Most Valuable Player honors. Bryant also won the Golden Spikes Award as the top collegiate player in the country after hitting 31 home runs at San Diego.
"It's hard not to hear about it," Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said of Bryant's numbers. "What he's doing is very special. When he gets up here, it's our job to make him feel comfortable. Until then, it's our job to win the games up here."
Rizzo also was a young phenom with the Padres. Did he have any advice for Bryant, like practicing patience?
"No, don't be patient," Rizzo said. "I've said it before, you don't want to be patient in the Minor Leagues. His time will come, and when it comes, embrace it."
The SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game, now in its 16th year, features the top Minor League prospects competing in a nine-inning contest as part of Taco Bell All-Star Sunday.
Major League Baseball, in conjunction with the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau, MLB.com, Baseball America and the 30 Major League clubs, selected the players. Each Major League organization is represented, and players from all full-season Minor Leagues are eligible to participate.
Baez and Bryant are two of 15 first-round Draft picks scheduled to participate. The World Team features players from eight different countries and territories outside the United States.
Votto impressed by Rizzo's evolution into total package
CHICAGO -- Anthony Rizzo may not rank among the top National League first basemen in All-Star balloting, but he got an endorsement from the Reds' Joey Votto.
"Anthony's made a big adjustment this year," Votto said. "He's always been a pretty excellent defender, and he's always had the potential. It seems to me like he's put it all together. He's played like -- he's probably going to be an All-Star this year. He's worthy of it."
Rizzo entered Tuesday leading all NL first basemen in home runs after hitting his 16th on Monday, and he trailed only Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen in walks, with 48.
"He's played really quite well, and I hope he continues it because he's set himself up this year for long-term success," Votto said. "And I think the Cubs are probably pretty happy, because they got him at a pretty fair price."
"I don't take pride in walking," Rizzo said Tuesday. "I don't want to walk -- I'd rather drive the ball in the gap. It just depends on the situation. It comes down to me swinging at my pitches. It's not about trying to walk at all -- that's not what I'm trying to do."
What the Cubs are happy to see is an improved approach at the plate. A year ago on June 24, Rizzo was batting .253. This year, he's hitting .281, including a .328 average against left-handed pitchers.
"He obviously came into the spring with an idea that he wanted to improve on using a little more of the field, having better at-bats, not chasing pitches off the plate," manager Rick Renteria said. "I think he's done a really nice job adjusting to doing that. I think he made a conscious effort on working on his approach."
Renteria watched Rizzo when the two were together with the Padres in 2011.
"You look at Riz and you could see the talent he had, and it was going to be as a young hitter developing a solid approach -- both against lefties and righties," Renteria said. "You knew he had the strength to hit the ball out of the ballpark, and obviously, experience plays a part in their development."
The Cubs do not have a position player in the top five in the latest All-Star balloting, but Rizzo ranks high among the NL first basemen. Would he like to make a trip to Minneapolis for the July 15 game at Target Field?
"If anyone says they don't care about being an All-Star -- that's something you dream about as a kid -- that and winning a World Series," Rizzo said. "When the time gets here [and he makes the team], it gets here. It's a long ways away, and there are a lot of other great players in this league."
Renteria endorses Samardzija for All-Star team
CHICAGO -- Jeff Samardzija doesn't have the won-loss record that would justify being considered an All-Star, but Cubs manager Rick Renteria feels the right-hander should be on the National League team.
Samardzija ranks seventh in the NL with a 2.53 ERA, and seventh in strikeouts with 97. He just hasn't gotten any run support. The right-hander has received one or zero runs of support in eight of his 16 starts, and has a 2.82 ERA in those outings. He has a 1.63 ERA in eight starts at Wrigley Field, but he's just 1-3 in those games.
"If the question is, would I recommend him? Yes," Renteria said when asked if Samardzija should be on the All-Star team. "Would I be criticized for it? It really wouldn't matter. He's pitched extremely well. He's among the top 10 pitchers in ERA. We haven't scored a whole lot of runs for him.
"Is he an individual who deserves sincere consideration? Absolutely."
Last year, pitcher Travis Wood was the Cubs' lone All-Star representative.
Fans can cast their votes for starters at MLB.com -- online or on a mobile device -- using the 2014 All-Star Game MLB.com Ballot Sponsored by Experian until Thursday, July 3, at 10:59 p.m. CT. The 2014 All-Star Game will be played at Target Field on Tuesday, July 15 on FOX.
• Emilio Bonifacio, on the disabled list with a right oblique strain since June 13, has yet to begin baseball activities as part of his rehab. Renteria said Bonifacio was making progress, but there is no timetable for his return.
• Eli Whiteside, who was designated for assignment on Sunday to make room on the roster for Welington Castillo, has cleared waivers and been assigned outright to Triple-A Iowa. Whiteside was 3-for-25 in eight games with the Cubs.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.