Cubs SS Starlin Castro works on eliminating errors

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MESA, Ariz. (AP) -- Ask Starlin Castro what he hopes to improve this spring and the Cubs' All-Star shortstop doesn't hesitate:

"My defense," he says.

In less than two full seasons in the major leagues, defense has been the most glaring flaw for Castro. He hit .300 in a 463-at-bat rookie year and followed it up last season by batting .307 and leading the National League in hits (207).

He also led the NL in errors with 29. His two-year total of 56 is a big reason the Cubs have been the worst-fielding team in the majors over that two-year stretch, committing an MLB-high 260 errors in that span with fielding percentages that ranked 28th and last, respectively.

Defense has been a heavy focus of new manager Dale Sveum and his coaches this spring as they seek quick improvement in a team that went 71-91 to finish fifth place in the NL Central Division in 2011.

"That's probably the biggest obstacle of all," Sveum said. "Defense if everything, whether it's (pitchers' practice), pitching and catching the ball and throwing to the right bases and hitting cutoff men."

And no part of that is more important than getting noticeable improvement out of his 21-year-old shortstop.

Sveum went to work on Castro's first day of drills, stopping the kid after watching him take a few grounders to talk to him about "gaining ground" when balls are hit instead of waiting for the ball to get to him.

"It's a work in progress," Sveum said that day. "There's a lot of things I saw that he definitely needs to work on."

Over the next few days, Sveum worked with him on keeping his shoulders in position to make accurate throws, keeping his head movement to a minimum and about picking up his target quicker.

By early this week, Sveum said he was encouraged by Castro's response, and his progress.

"He's been better the last few days," Sveum said. "It's just a constant grind, to get out of some bad habits that you've been doing for a long time."

Notes: Geovany Soto has been slowed by a "minor" groin injury early in camp, and Sveum said it could be another week before Soto's ready for a full day's workload. Sveum said he doesn't have any concerns about his starting catcher being ready for the season. . LHP Paul Maholm has returned to full activity after battling the flu. . The Cubs, who move up the road from Fitch Park to HoHoKam Stadium on Friday for the rest of camp, have scheduled intrasquad games Friday and Saturday in preparation for Sunday's exhibition opener.