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Welington Castillo emerging as long term answer at catcher

Welington Castillo emerging as long term answer at catcher
Welington Castillo has become a guy for Cubs pitchers to lean on this year.

When the Rays were in the process of raiding the Cubs then thin farm system for Matt Garza, they were pretty much given the choice of one of two minor league catchers.  Internally the Cubs were split as to which one they preferred to keep, so it seems they were going to have the Rays decide who the Cubs of the future catcher was by default.

It turns out the Rays chose wisely....for the Cubs.

Not surprisingly, they opted to go with the more disciplined Robinson Chirinos over the wild swinging, defensively erratic Welington Castillo.  There was always the feeling that Castillo was the more talented player.  He was compared even very early in his minor league career to a certain Cardinals catcher.  But the consensus was that he carried much more risk and had a significantly smaller chance of reaching that kind of potential.

What was underestimated here was Castillo's work ethic.  He went to work all offseason with coaches Chris Bosio on his game calling and Mike Borzello on refining some of those raw skills behind the plate.  As a former infielder, he had the quickness and lateral movement to block pitches, but not the proper technique.  Now he is the best in baseball according to his manager,

“We throw a lot at that kid, and he’s come a long way,” Sveum said. “There ain’t nobody better blocking the ball than he is”

There are all kinds of defensive metrics to support Sveum's casual assessment and some of those metrics are provided by Baseball Info Solutions.  They illustrate his value by comparing him to Indians' catcher Carlos Santana,

 Castillo has blocked 551 pitches in the dirt this year against just 28 wild pitches, a 95 percent block rate. By comparison, Indians’ catcher/first baseman Carlos Santana has allowed 42 wild pitches this year against only 255 catcher blocks (86 percent). To put it another way, Santana would have to block another 572 consecutive pitches in the dirt without allowing a single wild pitch to match Castillo’s block rate. While it’s not difficult to compare favorably to Santana defensively, BIS estimates that Castillo has saved the Cubs 10 runs on Good Fielding Plays and Defensive Misplays (carried largely by his pitch blocking). Santana, on the other hand, has cost the Indians 7.

But we cannot forget the all-around ability he has shown behind the dish, which Sveum has also lauded,

"Obviously, he can throw. The way he calls games. There’s no question he’s a front-line catcher.”

Overall, BIS says that Castillo has saved the Cubs 18 runs with his defense when you incorporate all his contributions, including his ability to throw out would be base-stealers, which is also above average (26% caught stealing compared to MLB average 23%), and his ability to pick runners off first.  He has done the latter 4 times, which is second in baseball to Chris Iannetta.   His ability to control the running game has saved an additional 5 runs.

But a catchers' job goes beyond blocking pitches and controlling the running game.  Castillo has become one of the best in the business in that aspect.  But he has also made great strides on how to manage a game and handle pitchers.

"You've got to make the adjustments back there," Castillo said. "You've got to study them, like if you are in school. You've got to watch a lot of video. A lot of scouting reports, too. You've got to be on top of a lot of that to make your pitchers better."

But it's not just his intelligence and rapidly improving knowledge of his pitchers and opposing hitters.  Castillo has an upbeat attitude and a way of calming down his pitchers.  Said former teammate and now Iowa Cubs pitcher Michael Bowden,

"He's fun to throw to. I think one of his best assets is attitude. He's very positive, he's fun to be around.  It's huge. He comes out there and smiles at you and just says something positive. You know, that goes a long way with pitchers. It helps calm you down and just gives you confidence to go and get your next pitch. Just having him behind the plate, you have a sense of comfort. "

Castillo fits perfectly with the Cubs plan to build defensive strength up the middle at possibly the most important defensive position on the field along with shortstop.  He has become the anchor of the team at just age 26.  He's just going to be entering his prime next year.

We should expect him to continue to improve on defense but where we may see even bigger strides is on offense.  Castillo still takes a big cut at the plate but he also shows good plate discipline.  After a slow start, he has walked in an outstanding 14.8% of his PAs in the second half and has walked in just over 8% of his plate appearances overall, which is slightly above MLB average.  The OBP of .352 is above average for any hitter and well above average for catchers.  It's yet another trait that also makes him a long term fit for this team.

If there is a missing component to Castillo's game so far, it's power.  Despite the mighty swing, Castillo has hit just 4 HRs this year and is slugging .371 (.099 ISO).  Yet we've seen Castillo put a charge into the ball, particularly to straight away CF, so we know the raw power is there.  Castillo slugged .488 in 700+ AAA PAs (.221 ISO).

If you are not going to have a Buster Posey type catcher on your team, then the next best thing is to get yourself a young catcher who can catch and throw, call a game and get on base.  And hopefully the rest of the offensive game continues to develop over time.

As for that  certain Cardinals catcher we referred to earlier,  he put up very similar offensive numbers at the same age offensively while also creating most of his early value as a defensive stalwart.  He later developed better skills as a hitter and has become the all-around star and Cubs nuisance we know as Yadier Molina.  I'm not necessarily saying Castillo is going to be that kind of player, but his skills behind the plate right now are arguably the best of any young catcher in the game.  And while he doesn't have Molina's contact skills and plate coverage as a hitter, he can someday hit for similar power with similar OBP numbers.

Not coincidentally, Molina is the player Castillo looks up to,

“He’s one of the best in the business. Why not learn from him?” says Castillo, whose coaching this year has included game film of Molina.

“Everyone knows how good he is,” Castillo says. “I love competition. I love to see him do things, and it’s like I want to do better than him, that kind of stuff.”

This season may not have gone the way many have wanted as far as the MLB club is concerned, but perhaps the best thing to come out of this year is the Cubs finding their catcher of the future and a player who you can feel confident leading your pitching staff into the playoffs one day.

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    I am disappointed in a lot of Cub fans. not so much on here as there seems to be an intelligent following on here. Mostly meatball types on a lot of the facebook groups I'm in, and the one I created, & currently administrate. Many of them have done nothing but give Wellington Castillo grief while they should be giving their thanks to the baseball Gods above for delivering them a young future all star catcher. If this article doesn't convert them nothing will. Great job as usual John. They should just take solace in the fact that Castillo is working his ass off to be even better than he is now which is plenty good enough. Most fans would absolutely love to have this kid as their catcher of the future. I know I am.

  • In reply to Johnny Hatelak:

    Thanks.

    I find it puzzling that people think he's a bad defensive catcher. I wonder if a lot of it is Brenly baggage, who was highly critical of Castillo too.

    I don't remember any Cubs catcher -- at least not a starting catcher -- who has the catch and throw skills that Castillo has.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I think part of it has to do with the passed balls and errors. He has 8 and 10 for those two categories. That is what the more casual fan sees. He has been improving as mentioned in the 2nd half. Obviously unfair to compare him to top catchers and I don't know how those 2 categories are with other catchers. Most fans don't get into the technical stats

  • In reply to Cubs Future:

    Very true. Those are very visceral errors and it is what casual fans tend to focus on.

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    Didn't realize he was on the table for Garza. Imagine how upset we'd be if Chris Archer was throwing to Welington Castillo in Tampa right now.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    And on his offense, we don't really need him to become Yadi Molina to have value. If he just plays plus to plus-plus defense and gets on base a decent chunk of the time (which he's been doing), we can stick him in the 8 hole where he'll do the important job of clearing the pitcher to get to the top of the lineup. (Especially important when there are 2 outs.) That's a big benefit to the team.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    True. I do think he can hit for power. He's a strong guy and he's done it in the minors. I think a .350 OBP with 15 HRs or so would make him among the best all around catchers in the game. But agreed that even if he doesn't, he still carries a ton of value.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    That's been my only disappointment with Beef this year. I thought he'd hit for more power. Like you said 15 HR maybe. That still may come next year but I do love his defense and as Moody said even if he doesn't hit for more power he's still of tremendous value.

    All I've ever wanted out of a catcher is good catch and throw and ability to handle a staff.

    Everyone always wants the next Johnny Bench, regarding a hitter, and what do they do when they get that hitter? They want to move him.

  • In reply to Ken Roucka:

    Well said, Ken. Agree with every word of this post.

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    In reply to Ken Roucka:

    I think I'm missing something. Who are you comparing to Johnny Bench as a hitter here?

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    He was on the table a couple of times. Texas also preferred Chirinos in a potential deal involvng (gulp) Chris Davis. He was so raw that some on the organization doubted he'd ever reach his potential -- obviously a couple of well-run teams felt the same way.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    When was that Davis deal discussed?

  • In reply to Ken Roucka:

    It was in the Hendry days (2010 offseason) and while Chris Davis was monumentally awful, a negative WAR player who was sent back to AAA for a couple of years and was hitting .190 with 1 HR for the big club. They were considering taking a flyer. I want to say this new FO also inquired about Davis after the 2011 season -- but I'm not sure that.

    Anyway, I think the Rangers wanted Chirinos, not Castillo, and maybe the hold up was the Cubs knew Tampa wanted Chirinos for the Garza deal.

    You wonder now what would happen if the Cubs just did the Chirinos for Davis deal and skipped the Garza trade. Could have Archer as part of the rotation right now as part of the core.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I was about ready to delve into the what-ifs of the trades we made but I got beat to the punch. So I'll just recap. Imagine the Davis trade happened and the Garza one didn't. Right now we have Rizzo at first but imagine if we traded Chirinos and rumors were Gorzelonny for Davis. This would have kept us from trading for Rizzo. Imagine us with Davis at first and a young rotation of Chris Archer, Andrew Cashner, and Samardzija with Lee coming back at AAA at SS. That would have been nice.

  • While the offensive and defensive skills can stand out to anyone, the thing I really have enjoyed seeing with Castillo all year is that positivity. You can't watch a game for more than two innings without seeing Castillo smile. It's not a little grin, either, it's a big smile. The man loves his job, loves baseball, and it shows.

    I may be a stats person, but there is always something to be said for team chemistry, and I'm not sure there's any clubhouse out there that Castillo wouldn't fit into amazingly.

  • In reply to Jim Weihofen:

    Yes, agreed. Liking your catcher goes a long way. Hard to get calm down or listen to your backstop if you don't like him and see him approaching the mound.

  • I think if you look at Molina's early numbers, Castillo is out producing him so far. In fact, it may not even be really close. Molina was real bad offensively his first few years.

    Also, I notice how everyone is quick to slam Sveum on Castro, Rizzo and Samardzija, but he gets no credit for Castillo.

    Hmmmmm.....

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    That's true. Sveum's efforts to revamp Castillo has been his most successful so far. Gotta give him credit for seeing that ability when many had their doubts -- even as recently as last year.

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    I remember Brenly harping on him for the way he caught pitches. That his framing was poor. Which I remember at the time disagreeing with. Castillo has shown he has a lot of ability defensively. Especially with his quick feet. He showed more power in small MLB sample last year. But I don't mind his power dipping this year since his AVG and OBP look better.

  • In reply to Sean Holland:

    Yes, that's it -- it was the framing that he constantly harped on. And I remember even when I was talking earlier this year about how much his defense improved, I would get some people responding with how terrible his framing was. Like you, I always thought that was overblown. Not that he didn't need to improve it (which he has), but that was the only thing Brenly ever seemed to talk about.

    I do like the OBP and I'd be happy if he kept his offense at this level, but I think he'll naturally hit for more power over time as he gets to know the league better.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Brenly always seem like he had a problem with minorities.

  • In reply to seankl:

    I do know that most of the players he criticized: Ramirez, Soriano, Castro, Castillo happened to be from the DR...but I think it's unfair to jump to conclusions. It could simply be because they were also the Cubs best and most visible players. I know, for example, that my father always criticizes the most visible players. He criticized players like Sandberg, Dawson, Soriano with equal venom. And the same is true of managers Baker, Piniella, and now Sveum. I'd like to believe the same was true of Brenly -- that he just criticized the most visible players and the players/managers he expected the most from.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I understand but when you say things that should not be said then it comes off as something other than just doing his job. He still got on Ramirez after ramirez was not on the cubs. And he got on castro during the game when the cubs played the diamondbacks.

  • In reply to seankl:

    It is strange. Not sure why he can't just let it go and move on.

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    I wonder if Castillo has sold out his power a little bit in order to make better contact at the ML level.

    Ideally, the Cubs should have an offense-first backup to pair with him, preferably a left-handed hitting one. Navarro was the perfect complement this year, I just am not sure we'll be able to keep him....someone else may offer him more $ and opportunity to start

  • John, I've been asking about J Johnson in a couple online chats. I queried Harry P & Thoburn over at BP and they both agreed he could be a nice value play this offseason. If Tanaka doesn't happen, he still retains a lot of upside and price would probably be manageable. His peripherals were much better than headline #s . His HR/FB rate was absurdly high. Velocity seemed within range of normal. Thoughts?

  • In reply to Carl9730:

    I think he could definitely work as a flyer on the right kind of deal. He may even want a one year deal to try and re-establish value and that would play right into the Cubs wheelhouse. They've proven they can take pitchers like Maholm and Feldman and give them the opportunity to prove themselves.

  • Castillo's emergence is all the more welcome when you think about how thin the organization is at the catcher position. If he can hold the job down for the next few years it provides much-needed time to develop more talent. I believe however that Navarro is leaving for an opportunity to be a clear starter somewhere. If that happens, it will be interesting to see how Castillo responds when he's asked to shoulder more of the load.

  • In reply to CoolerbytheLake:

    Absolutely. He buys them some time to add some depth without having to spend on a free agent. If the Cubs aren't able to keep Navarro, then I hope they do bring in another veteran -- but I have few doubts that Castillo can handle the load either mentally or physically.

  • is an extension in the works for castillo this offseason?

    hes still pre arb next season and the cubs could sign him to a 4-6 year deal at a fraction of what he is worth if they wanted to. i would be very happy if a deal could get done. im thinking 5yr/25mil or 6/30 with a club option or two.

  • In reply to jshmoran:

    Not that I'm aware of but I wouldn't be surprised if the subject is broached. They could also wait until next year during the season.

  • Here we go again. Three years ago, we had the best emerging catcher in baseball in Geovany Soto who would be behind the plate for the Cubs for the next decade. Of course, Soto was even then an obvious work-in-need-of-progress. But yet everyone hoped he'd get a ridiculous Carlos Marmol-like extension. Can we let at least let Castillo make one All-Star team before we put him even in Geovany's flawed company (who made one All-Star team), let alone the same sentence as Gold Glove veteran catchers like Molina and Martin. Castillo has obvious positives (strong arm, athletic pitch blocking, above-average OBP) but also obvious areas for improvement (error-prone arm, bad framing technique, high strikeout rate on offense, a .179 average hitting with RISP). But I agree this is not a position the Cubs should worry about. Like SS and 1B, allow Castillo another year to determine whether he's Soto or Molina. That's what rebuilding years are for.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    Average with RISP...really? A stat based far more on randomness than skill? Errors are an archaic way to measure defense -- especially when Castillo makes far more plays with his arm than mistakes. And the bad framing argument left along with Bob Brenly. Nobody has a problem with it now.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Not to mention using all-stars appearance to determine if he's a good player or not.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Simply calling one stat archaic or based on randomness is really not an argument. If the ability to drive runners in when in scoring position simply measures randomness and not skill, then a player's total RBIs and Runs scored do the same. And since scoring runs (and preventing the other team from doing such) is the objective of the game, your argument suggests the entire game's outcome is based on randomness. Also the Cubs have committed the 4th most Wild Pitches in the NL, and Castillo has been charged with the second most Passed Balls and has the most errors of any catcher in the NL (despite ranking 7th in Games Started). So why is a blocked pitch considered a far more reliable occurrence to measure than a passed ball or a non-blocked pitch that leads to a wild pitch? I contend all stats, not just one or two pick-and-chosen, combined with direct observation is the best way to evaluate a player. And based on that, Castillo is an athletic catcher with a strong if erratic arm who needs to improve in cutting down errors and passed balls and improve his framing technique. And on offense, his ability to take a walk and drive up pitch counts are positives, but his high strikeout rate and weakness at driving in runs are obvious areas for improvement. But the preference to value one stat over another is consistent with the preference to value one major-league manager's (Sveum's) compliment of a player over another manager's critique (Brenly's). Statistically speaking, the odds are you will find the truth somewhere in between.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    Most statistical analysts do, in fact, believe that RBI and runs scored are indeed based on factors such as environment and luck and not skill. I happen to believe there is at least some skill involved, but I'm in the minority.

    It's not that one stat is taken over the other. It's that in totality, when you take all of the factors: errors, passed balls, blocked pitches, runners thrown out, etc. etc. Castillo still comes out way on the plus side -- 18 runs saved by one measurement, which would pretty much be an elite defender. Again, that is taking everything into account -- good and bad. It's already been factored in.

    Again, that's not to say he doesn't have areas to improve, but he's already a top defender when everything is taken into account -- and this is true according to every advanced defensive metric that I know of. So....it's not Brenly vs. Sveum. It's Brenly vs. Sveum + every scout I've talked to + the coaching staff + every defensive metric out there. There really isn't much division of opinion here. He's well thought of across the board.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Castillo is "well thought of"... hmm, I didn't know that was the point in question. But that is far from some of the wild Gold Glove and Hall of Fame talk thrown around here by others. Castillo is not even one of the top four overall catchers in baseball presently. (I'd happily trade him straight up right now for Molina, Posey, Wieters or even Salvator Perez... but that's a fantasy the other teams would never agree to). But not being an elite catcher doesn't mean he's awful or not improving. That said, a clear-eyed observer of sabermetrics would grant that the "runs saved" stat appears at least "slightly" skewed in Castillo's case. Because if it is a reasonable summation of his defensive talents then he's got no where else to improve. As your acolytes point out, Castillo's "runs saved" ranks among the highest ever, even among Hall of Famers. Now that's more than "well thought of." Who believes we really have the next Ivan Rodriguez or Johnny Bench here? (I'll be happy if he's the next Mike Matheny or Tony Pena, but even those comparisons are premature as well.) But if most every scout and coach you've talked to agree with the accuracy of the "runs saved" metric and agree Castillo is a burgeoning Hall of Famer, now there's a story to blog about. But obviously, if a player leads his position in all sorts of other measurable yet imperfect stats (like the imperfections of "runs saved" itself), then you must grant some unintended vagueries with the "runs saved" stat's algebraic formulation and that Castillo should not simply put it on cruise control and expect the HOF to call. Again, let's let him go to at least one All-Star game first before crown him as even an elite catcher.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    It sounds like you're arguing a strawman here. Nobody is saying he is a Hall-of-Famer or an elite catcher (though metrics suggest an elite performance this season in terms of runs saved) and nobody is saying he doesn't have room to improve. What was said is that defensively, he's among the top catchers in the game right now and the best defensive metrics bear that out. The disagreement is with your opinion that errors and/or passed balls negate that -- in large part because those factors have already been included in those metrics, but also because errors alone as a metric are an outdated and inaccurate way to measure defensive ability. I would also disagree that in terms of informed opinion, that there is some sort of division as to whether Castillo is a good defensive catcher. It's the consensus right now that he is.

    The article simply said he's emerging as the Cubs long term solution, which in itself implies a work in progress. It certainly doesn't call him a future Hall-of-Famer or even a a finished product.

    So...the points in the article are that Castillo is beginning to look like the Cubs long term solution at catcher and that conclusion is largely based on his defense and ability to handle a pitching staff. If you are arguing with that, then I disagree with you. But if you're trying to make a separate point that nobody should be making his plaque for Cooperstown yet, then I agree -- in fact, I would venture to guess that everyone would agree with you on that.

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    Scooter Gennett was a 16th round pick. That's some nice value.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Yep. He could always hit. Nice play on defense there too.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Brewers may wonder if Rickie Weeks is expendable if Gannett continues to play well. Weeks under contract through '14 only

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    It's kinda weird watching this team because Schafer-Gindl-Hellwig-Gennett-Morris were the Sounds best names the last two years.

    I would be shocked if Gennett can keep this HR rate up -- he isn't that strong -- but he will be a top of the order nightmare for us for the foreseeable future.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    Halton, not Morris.

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    Maybe it's just me but I never thought of Soto as a solid defensive catcher. Geo was an offense first catcher especially in his rookie year. Maybe I'm wrong but I didn't think Soto really was a highly thought of prospect till a numbers spike his last AAA season. His numbers never really returned after 2008 and his defense never impressed me. There were even some PED accusations or rumors about Geo. But I never believed that, I think he just lost the solid plate approach of his rookie season.

  • In reply to Sean Holland:

    It's me too. I thought Soto was average at best, average arm, mobility, etc.

    And he was definitely a late bloomer. Castillo had more early buzz, Soto came on late in his 3rd year in AAA. Different paths and I hope it leads to different long term results. I like the fact that Castillo can at least play D and get on base. That should keep his value up even if he never hits for the power people hope/think he can.

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    Rosscup throwing 92-93 mph FB today.....that's a little more than advertised, isn't it?

  • In reply to Zonk:

    It sure is. My report on him was a bit over a year old. Looks like I'll need to update.

  • Great article, Tom. Welly really does a nice job back there! Gotta love the catching production this year and hope they bring Navvy back. Certainly not their fault! I can see Welly hitting .300 sometime in the next three years. Game calling and receiving skills aren't skills that depreciate either so it looks like we have a hidden gem who's only getting better to root for! How about a little .283/11/55 piece next season with a .780 OPS and great D?!

  • In reply to Ben20:

    Thanks, Ben. Those numbers would certainly work for me -- I think he may be more of a .260-.270 guy with good OBP, though.

  • What is the best thing for Beef this off-season - winter leagues or some personalized instruction in AZ?

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Maybe some rest and then back to work in 2014.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    He did play last winter, so you're probably correct.

  • OT - Has anyone looked at the progress on the new spring training facility? It's going along very nicely. Check out the webcam while the sun is out. https://www.hunt-connect.com/cubsspringtraining/Pages/webcam.aspx

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    Maybe the bullpen won't improve that much next season...

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Are you referring to the wildness?

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Yeah -- a lot of the guys we'd identified as being nice arms next year having trouble throwing strikes today. More frustration than prediction.

  • Another point on Castillo: he gets out of the chute well, handling bunts and popups deftly.

    Navarro? Well. I love the guy but he's like a slug behind the plate. If I'm another GM, I'd hate to have to leave my pitching staff in his hands for 130 games a year.

  • Vogelbach with an RBI double in the first. Pinyero strikes out 5 through two for Daytona.

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    It's a good thing Castillo has emerged, because there really wouldn't have been too many other options out there. Lopez, Krist, et al in the farm system are probably future backups, with Contreras the only possible exception, but his ceiling's also extremely low. And it's not like it's easy to find a quality catcher on the FA market, either.

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    In reply to Jason Pellettiere:

    Great point. Our best non-Castillo bet is probably to take Alex Jackson if they think he can stay at catcher, but high school catchers don't have a great record and, even if they did take him, he's an eternity away. Castillo really did us a lot of good with his development.

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