Castro at keystone could be key for Yankees

Three-time All-Star impressing new team at second base

Castro at keystone could be key for Yankees

TAMPA, Fla. -- Second base has been an issue for the Yankees since the morning that Robinson Cano discovered 240 million reasons to fall in love with Seattle, but in Starlin Castro, they may have finally identified the right player to plug that vacancy.

Castro has dazzled the Yankees on both sides of the ball this spring, hitting with authority while contributing a few defensive plays that offered reminders of Cano's smooth style. As he prepares to call Yankee Stadium his new home, Castro just might be the team's X-factor this season.

"This is a young man that has 991 hits and he just turned 26," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We knew he was going to hit, and he's made the adjustment to second base very well. There's still some plays that he's going to go through that he's never experienced, but we're OK with that because he's athletic and he'll figure it out."

The Yankees' scouting department had identified Castro as an intriguing second-base option last year, while Stephen Drew was still manning the position in New York. The Cubs provided a sneak preview, and Castro seemed to respond, hitting .353 with six homers in 42 games after yielding shortstop to Addison Russell.

That's the production that the Yankees are hoping for, with the right-handed-hitting Castro projected to add balance to the lower half of the lineup when the season begins. There is a good possibility that he could be promoted higher in the order, particularly against left-handed pitching.

"It doesn't matter. Whatever is good for the team," Castro said. "Whatever they want me to be, I'm going to be there and try and do my job and help the team."

A three-time All-Star, Castro batted .265 with 11 homers and 69 RBIs in 151 games for the Cubs last season. Rated as an aggressive contact hitter, Castro is just one year removed from a '14 campaign in which he hit .292 with 14 homers and 65 RBIs.

"I'll tell you what: I like to see a kid that's [26] and has almost 1,000 hits," Alex Rodriguez said. "Kind of seeing the ball, the way it comes off his bat at our stadium, that could be a nice thing for us."

Castro will be asked to fill in occasionally for shortstop Didi Gregorius, and he continues to take grounders at that position, but most of his work with infield coach Joe Espada has revolved around learning the ins and outs of second base.

"It's good so far. I think I feel pretty good out there," Castro said. "It's just familiarity out there. I'm feeling better."

Girardi said he has been impressed by Castro's dedicated work ethic, taking his practice reps seriously while fitting in with his new teammates. Castro's near-instant comfort level in the Yankees clubhouse shouldn't come as a surprise; after all, his big league mentor was Alfonso Soriano.

"He took me to his house to live with him, and I appreciated that a lot," Castro said. "I just really would hang with him every day, work out every day and every morning, just work out with him. I think that's the most important thing, because he helped me a lot and he teach me how it is in the big leagues."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.