MESA, Arizona — Wellington Castillo saw the same thing everyone else did in 2013 when it comes to Starlin Castro.
The difference is that Castillo could attempt to help and support the oft-criticized shortstop for the Chicago Cubs.
"He got down on himself and I understand," said Castillo, the Cubs starting catcher. "I was always like, 'I got your back. You can do this.' I say it, but it is up to him. It's hard to in that exact moment. You try to do everything, but nothing works for you."
The 23-year-old Castro is coming off the first difficult season of his major league career when he hit .245, had 22 errors and was dropped to No. 8 in the lineup after being named an All-Star the previous two years. He went to work in the offseason with Cubs strength coach Tim Buss in the Dominican Republic and in the few weeks leading up to spring training he spent time at training center in Florida.
He is saying all the right things as the Cubs prepare for their first game on Thursday when they host the Diamondbacks at the new Cubs Park.
"It's a very important year for me," Castro said. "I have something to prove."
It's the right approach and Castillo said he can see a difference in Castro.
"He looks way more comfortable than last year," said Castillo, who begins his second year as the No. 1 catcher. "Hopefully, he brings that to the season and has the same seasons he had before. It's all about how you prepare in spring training, and before a game. It is going to take you to the next level and make everything easier."
Castro begins his fifth season as the Cubs shortstop and his latest manager, the fourth of his career, was impressed when they met individually after the players arrived in camp.
"He spoke more than we did," said Rick Renteria, who was brought in partially because of his reputation to handle young players. "He has an idea of what he wants to do."
Castro isn't settling for just returning to that form that saw him hit .300 in his first two years and lead the league in hits in 2011. He wants to be someone to look up to for the large crop of top prospects the Cubs have, just the way Alfonso Soriano was for him.
"My responsibility is to play hard," Castro said. "To try to have the other guys behind me look at me and say, 'I want to be like this guy. A guy working hard and playing hard.'"
One of those prospects is shortstop Javier Baez, who appears to be on the fast track after hitting 37 home runs last season in two minor leagues. It adds a little more intrigue as the 2014 season approaches and Castro does his best to become the player the front office is counting on as the Cubs continue to build for the future.
"I have a lot of motivation because the people here on top tell me to not listen to too many people," Castro said. "Try to be me."