Cubs position preview: Welington Castillo looks to take the next step at catcher

Cubs position preview: Welington Castillo looks to take the next step at catcher
Castillo will continue to work on improving his chemistry with pitchers.

There was a time not too long ago when the Cubs appeared to have Geovany Soto as their catcher for the long term with a couple of interesting backup prospects.  The Cubs had a mini-surplus with Robinson Chirinos and Welington Castillo approaching the upper minors.  At that time it was Chirinos that interested teams like the Rangers and Rays, and it would be the Rays that would eventually pry him loose, receiving him as part of the Matt Garza payment.

It was no surprise that those teams preferred Chirinos.  He had the more polished approach at the plate and he was learning the position quickly.  On the other hand, Castillo was raw, prone to careless mistakes behind the plate, a little behind as far as handling pitchers, and had an aggressive approach that had him sometimes swinging from his heels.  At best he was inconsistent in all phases of the game.

But he was talented.

As much as it looked like Chirinos was the safer bet, there was a strong faction within the old Cubs front office that it would be Castillo who would turn out to be the better player.

Well, chalk that one up for the Cubs.  It wasn't often back then that the Cubs would make better scouting evaluations than teams like the Rays and Rangers, but they did in this case.  And the Cubs have to feel lucky that they still have their talented young catcher.

Castillo is still not a finished product, but he made some tremendous strides last year both at the plate and behind it.  In a dismal season for the Cubs young core, Castillo's progress was one of the few bright spots.

It didn't start off that way at first.  Castillo's old hacktastic ways raised it's ugly head early in the season.  He didn't take his first walk until the end of April and only had 6 total walks by the middle of June.  Then things started to turn around for him.  You can make an easy case for him as being the best Cubs hitter after the all-star break, when he hit .288/.388/.475 with an ISO of .187. a  wOBA of .375 and an RC+ of 137.    He did not have one month after June that featured less than an RC+ of 104.  That's excellent, consistent, offensive production for a catcher.

It remains to be seen whether that was an upward trend or an outlier that just happened to occur as the season ended.  Overall, however, despite his slow start, Castillo hit .274/.349/.397 with 8 HRs and an RC+ of 107.

But it's his defense that perhaps made even bigger strides.  He became as good as any catcher in the game at blocking balls in the dirt, even as good or better than Yadier Molina himself in that area.   Castillo also has a strong arm and was proficient at cutting down basestealers and keeping runners honest with his snap throws at first.

There is little question that Castillo has mastered the physical parts of the position.

"Weli had a nice year," catching coach Mike Borzello said. "He's just scratching the surface of what he can be. But he's a guy that when I showed up, he wowed you right away when you saw him as far as his abilities and what he can do, especially defensively."

But there is much more to the art of catching.

This year Castillo is set to tackle the more mental aspect of the game.  This year we can expect to see him work on his pitching calling and the framing of pitches, two areas which improved, but still need work.

 "Last year was a big step towards learning the position, learning how to handle the pitching staff, how to break down scouting reports, all the retention that goes into that. Just building the trust of your pitchers is not an easy thing to do. You're dealing with a lot of different personalities. You have to find a way to be able to get the best out of each pitcher. Each one is different and he's learning how to do that. He's getting better with that whole process.

"Until you have that battery working together and trusting each other, it really doesn't work. Last year was a huge beginning to what we're going to see for the next number of years."

Getting along with his pitchers shouldn't be a problem with the affable Castillo anyone familiar with him knows he isn't afraid of a little hard work to smooth out those rough edges.  His work ethic is off the charts.

Castillo is entering his age 27 year and the Cubs are about to find out if he can be a piece of the long term puzzle.  I think he can.

The Backup

One thing that will change is that Castillo doesn't have the steady mentor behind him in Dioner Navarro.  The backup this year will be George Kottaras, who adds some solid defense of his own and packs a little punch and a solid approach from the left side.  He has hit 26 of his 29 career HRs vs. RHP, hitting .220/.319/.430 with an average RC+ of 101.  His strength, however, is his power, as his .209 career ISO vs. righties would attest.  As far as backups go, that is a solid player.

But make no mistake about it, he's not an everyday player.  Kottaras is here to fill and play a role. but it's Castillo that the Cubs will be looking at this season to make an even bigger impact.

Down on the Farm

Catching is largely seen as a weakness in the Cubs organization but they have some solid players with the skills to contribute if they make progress.  Wilson Contreras is probably the best of the bunch but he's raw and he's still maturing as a ballplayer and a person.

Mark Malave is a name to watch this spring.  He's an advanced hitter who has always been a little young compared to his competition.  He shows a good approach and a line drive swing.  He has natural strength but so far that hasn't translated into live games.  If that happens, he could become interesting rather quickly.  Behind the plate he has a strong arm and was athletic enough to play all infield spots last season.

The closest catcher to being MLB ready in the minors is last year's AA starter Rafael Lopez.  Lopez converted from the infield in college and has a solid bat with solid discipline.  He handles pitchers pretty well but is still inconsistent on defense.

Chadd Krist is a solid catch and throw guy who has shown enough flashes to be a backup down the road.  On the other end the Cubs picked up an intriguing hitter in Charles Cutler, who can help offset the loss of Steve Clevenger as contact oriented hitting backup with very good plate discipline.

The Cubs have converted a number of players to catcher, one of them being Ben Carhart, who has adapted to the position well.  He has a line drive, doubles power type bat which could serve him well as long as he can master the position defensively -- and there are good signs he's making progress on that end.

Your deep sleeper is Will Remilliard, whom the Cubs are bringing to MLB camp to help take on some of the workload.  They like his skills/tools behind the plate and he shows the potential for some power with the bat.


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  • I am assuming that Cael Brockmeyer is either too far down the system or projects as more of a 1st baseman/DH type. Good OBP albeit a little swing and miss and spent the summer getting used to wood bats. I was excited last year to see him get the emergency call up to AAA. I got the impression from that assignment that they trust him a little. He is a big man perhaps too big for catcher. It will be interesting to see if they spend a pick in the first 10 rounds on a catcher this year.

  • In reply to Gator:

    Brockmeyer looks like he can hit. I didn't want to make an exhaustive list but I did want to concentrate on guys who I think have a good chance of sticking at catcher.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    It's the old blind hog theory John, everyone's gotta get lucky now and then. It goes to show you never know with prospects, those of us that lived thru the Brock trade can verify that. On paper Ernie looked like the best move, but it didn't quite turn out that way for the Cubs. You hope and pray all these young guys coming up will all make it, history tells us it probably won't work out that way. Problem is, you don't who will and who won't. All you can do is draft and develop as well as you can, and pray a lot.

  • In reply to peoria cubfan:

    I don't know about that. Castillo is so much more physically gifted than Chirinos. I think the Cubs are lucky he had the work ethic to do as much as possible to make the use of his natural ability -- but I don't think it was lucky that some in the system recognized the raw talent.

  • I think Welington could be a top 5-10 catcher by the end of the year. He could definitely play his way into the long-term core with a good 2014 campaign.

  • Agreed. If he can make anywhere near the progress he made last year, the Cubs are going to have their catching position set for the foreseeable future.

  • Where do you see him hitting in the line up? If he can repeat what he did last season, I would think he might offer rizzo a little protection? One thing that still concerns me is all the errors that he had. Way to many for a catcher.

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    I think he's probably a #7 type hitter long term but he may bat 6th for the Cubs this year.

    He's still a bit erratic but he makes a lot more plays than he gives up, so overall it's a big net positive. I think he'll always make more errors than the normal catcher because he has the tools to make plays that other catchers can't -- so he may end up taking more chances than the average guy. But I do think he needs to cut them down a little. He's still learning about himself.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I am glad he will be a good a blocking. But I am not sure about the tools to take more chances then the average guy. It isn't like the SS position where more range equals more chances to make a error or throwing error. Only was wellington makes errors is interference, dropping ball at play at plate or throwing ball. It seems to me he needs to work on his throws or decision making on throws.

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    Sure he does. More throws, more plays that he can get out of the chute quickly and try to make a tough play, maybe take a chance and try to cut down the lead runner. He can at least attempt to make some plays others can't. I didn't say he wasn't inconsistent too, but the amount of plays he has the abilty to make with compared to someone like Dioner Navarro is significant. But if you can't make the plays Welington can make with his tools, then you don't need to make as many decisions. You just take the easy play.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    True. I guess if people are willing to run on you more then one would have more chances to make plays. Let's hope he works on his pop time.

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    Faulty logic. Willing to run has as much to do with who is on the mound. Castillo's CS rate of about 30% is above league average. A 70% success rate actually costs teams runs, so I doubt they are eager to run on him.

    Do you have any idea what Castillo's pop time is? I'll give you a hint: The time is considered plus by scouts. His arm is rated as high as a 70, which is plus-plus.

    So wrong. Try again.

  • Welly is one of those guys that if he continues to improve, can help the Cubs improve the win totals. If he were to come anywhere close to the slash line that he had post All Star break, he is a legitimate #6 hitter that will have a major offensive input for this team.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    Agreed. I think he's a guy the Cubs can help them add wins internally.

  • My business is competitive female mat wrestling, and I will say this.

    Doesn't matter what facet of life you are in, whether it be baseball, wrestling, or any job of any sort.

    The people with the best work ethic often win out. When you hear someone has an unbelievable work ethic, they often are a good investment.

    Here is hoping to Wellington having a big season and having all that hard work pay off.

  • Wish we could have kept Navarro. If Welly gets injured I'm afraid we won't get much offense from Kottarras, although he might put up respectable power numbers at Wrigley.

  • In reply to CubsBuck22:

    It wasn't in the cards to keep Navarro,... the man wanted a starting gig and starting gig money,.... I was on record pre-Spring Training last year thinking that signing Navarro was a bad idea,... man I was wrong about that. Wish he would have stuck around too, but that wasn't in the cards.

    I think that Kottarras is going to prove two years running that the management can gather up quality supplemental players off the scrapheap and get good milage out of them.

  • In reply to CubsBuck22:

    I think the Cubs wanted to hand the reins to Castillo here. I think they're more interested in developing Castillo for the long term than having him split time with Navarro.

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    We're still looking for TOR arms,but one guy I could see the Cubs grabbing if given the chance is Rancho Bernardo High School kid C. Alex Jackson. By the time Beef hits 31-32 this kid would be 22-23 and would be positioned to take over. I mention all this after having lived thru the likes of Bertell,Thacker and counless others over the decades.Maybe we should check and see if Johnny Bench has any grand children available.

  • In reply to TheRiot2:

    Jackson is well-regarded but I don't know if the Cubs are going in that direction. I think if they go bat they may go Turner.

  • In reply to TheRiot2:

    From what I have read about Jackson is he outgrows catching very soon.

  • In reply to TheRiot2:

    HS catchers is probably the worst % play in the mlb draft. Very, very rarely do they work out.

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    Does anyone see a possible regression from Castillo this year?

    He had an unsustainable BABIP of .347 last year. I think he'll hit for more power than 2013, and absolutely can, but I'm concerned he'll hack his way to a below-average starting C, and 8th place hitter.

    Even with a slash of .230/.300/.370 or whatever you play him, because he adds value on defense and we don't have anyone else, but just wondering if we're being too opitmistic about him moving forward, when in fact I could easily see him moving backwards

  • In reply to Zonk:

    I think the avg does regress a little, but he can make up some of the difference with power.

    The problem with Castillo, like Soto before him (and catchers in general) is that he is already 27. Catcchers take so long to develop in most cases that by the time they are ready defensively they are often nearing their decline phase offensively. It wouldn't shock me if Castillo has a couple of decent years offensively and then drops off significantly the same way Soto did.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    Actually, it's well regarded that the fastest ticket to the show is as a catcher. Their development time is no worse than the other positions. The fundamentals are the same for a HS catcher as a MLB catcher. It's an entirely different level when looking at the intangibles however. But because this is the most important defensive position, you don't have to wait for them to develop fully as an offensive player. A team will gladly carry a defensive stalwart with little to no production. This & SS are the only positions where Darwin Barney type offense is acceptable, assuming they play Darwin Barney type defense at those positions.

    Having said that, you are correct in that at age 27, he has a few years in his window as an above avg everyday player. There are exceptions obviously, so hopefully he proves us wrong.... But I wouldn't be surprised to see this FO trade him before his FA payday while we develop as many Catchers as they can internally...

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    In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Does the delay in switching him to catcher extend his window any? I was always under the impression that one of the big problems catchers have is that by the time they're in their 30s they been squatting behind the plate every summer for 2/3s of their life.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    It probably extends his defensive life, but not the offensive life. He's still going to start losing bat speed soon like any other player at that age.

    I think it is one of the reasons teams like to convert position players to catcher is that they don't have the wear on their knees from ages 16-21 that kids who have always been catchers have.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    As a former catcher I can tell you that most over look the dings.. the bumps and bruises, it's like an NFL player that has to learn how to "play hurt".

    I never played above 1A so I have to imagine the wear and tear over a 162 games... that's crazy. The other issue that Beef will have to deal with is the obvious decline in physical tools once he's 30+. maybe his doesn't start until he's 32 or 35, or whenever... but it's inevitable.

    So to answer your question, I don't think the delay in switching positions extends his window any. Because I think it's tied to his age more so than years behind the plate. It's going to come down to genetics as how "long" he can last, assuming no major injuries. On average, I'd say he's got about 4-5 years before seeing a significant enough decline to justify a platoon role.

    Anyways, Beef is under control through 2017. I doubt they sign him beyond that, assuming we have an internal replacement by then. But we can ride the hell out of him until them...

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    In the minors, it's clear the cupboard is pretty bare. Cubs system is rich in infielders, solid in outfielders, thin in pitching, but catching is probably the biggest sore spot. How high will Cubs take a catcher in the draft? How high should they?

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Catchers in general are hard to find, so that the Cubs have one in his prime is ahead of most of the game. I don't think there's a catcher worth drafting early unless you like Alex Jackson and think he can stick. Seems to me you can find a catcher just about anywhere -- later in the draft, IFA's, conversion candidates.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Yadi Molina, for example, was a fourth round pick. I certainly wouldn't have a problem with the Cubs drafting a catcher in the 4th or 5th round this year with an eye to using him as "the guy" to replace Castillo.

    Of course, "the guy" in this case is written in pencil with a few dozen erasers lying around.

  • If the the first 3 picks in the draft are all pitchers we could very well take C Alex Jackson. And just continue to draft a ton of pitchers throughout the draft, like we have done in the past. Jackson is the best hitting prep prospect. He has that beloved bat speed the FO generally fall in love with. It'd also be consistent with taking the BPA in the first round.

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    In reply to Seancicero:

    I keep thinking about the Cubs drafting of Vitters in the first round out of Cypress HS in Cypress, Ca. That to this point hasn't worked out due to various reasons,so grabbing a college bat would possibly increase the odds of success.

  • In reply to TheRiot2:

    John referenced an article around draft time last year that showed statistically speaking, a college bat is by far the safest bet... Epstoyer have publicly acknowledged that data as valid and incorporated in their decision process. Bu they won't "settle" for a lessor talent just because that individual is a college position player...

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    Every time I saw Chadd Krist play he had a big game. So they should call him up and give me season tickets.

  • The Cubs also signed Danny Canela out of Independent League... As weak as the position is, I think Canela and Cutler could rank among the top 5 catchers in the farm.

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    OT, but ZIPS projections for the Cubs are posted on Fangraphs

    --We are pegged for 30 WAR, 5 more than last year
    --11 WAR in infield, 3 from Catcher, only 4 in OF (with Lake at ZERO; the projections HATE him)
    --Improvement from bullpen

    Cubs are tough to predict, because playing time projections are very difficult for the Cubs right biggest takeaway really is that they like Ruggiano, and hate Lake

  • In reply to Zonk:

    The league adjusted to Junior. It was very evident the last month or so... Those projections do not surprise me. Ruggiano s/b golden for us as a platoon player, ala Schierholtz. If he's forced intoi everyday action... then not so much.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Count me as a Lake doubter. He is fast, but can't steal bases. He is strong, but has never hit more than 12 HRs. He has footspeed, but gets such poor jumps he largely negates it in the OF. He can hit any pitch, but also swings at just about everything. He does have a good arm.

    If he can't play a plus CF, it's an open question whether he is a ML player, never mind a starter. He won't get 500 ABs in LF, but if he does he'll be the worst LF in baseball

  • In reply to Zonk:

    I don't consider myself a Lake doubter... but I've never had expectations of more than a 4th/5th OF'r, for the obvious reasons you mentioned. Most all of that is correctable & coachable though.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    And only turns 24 in March. Theres still room to adjust and grow

  • Bruce Levine just tweeted this out:

    Bruce Levine
    Samardzija and the team were 100 k apart in mid week according to a source.

    If true, this thing has to settle, right?

  • Dumb question probably, but due to his stature and athleticism, wouldn't Vogelbach make a potentially decent catcher? I do not have a clear read on his understanding of the game/IQ.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Gator:

    Not dumb, since if he remains a 1B only, you have to hit a ton to carry to the majors. But I think scouts, industry sources, coaches, and pretty much everyone is in agreement with this statement: Vogelbach doesn't have the footspeed or athleticism to play any position other than 1B, even if he loses weight. If he works very hard, he may be able to progress his defense at 1B to "Passable". That's as good as it gets.

    He's really a DH

  • In reply to Gator:

    If that were an option it would have been considered by now. Catcher requires more athleticsm than 1B and Vogelbach isn't even good there. My guess is he doesn't have enough arm either, and really a player carrying that much weight would probably destroy his knees relatively quickly.

  • fb_avatar

    I too see a regression from Lakes stats from last year. Ruggiano likely grabs an outfield spot whether it be LF or CF this coming season. The wild card in all this could be Vitters who likely is down to his last chance before being cast to the scrapheap.

  • "Samardzija and the team were 100 k apart in mid week according to a source."

    Nowadays baseball execs wipe their rears with more than that.

  • In reply to hoffpauir6:

    Ha :) It seems like that should be easy enough to resolve if true.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    More likely some media type trying to get some attention.

  • In reply to John57:

    I imagine it has something to do with a no trade clause.

  • I have high hopes for Welly. Hopefully he can continue takeing steps forward

  • "It wasn't often back then that the Cubs would make better scouting evaluations than teams like the Rays and Rangers, but they did in this case."

    Actually, the old regime was excellent at scouting/talent evaluation. They were just set in their old-school ways about it and had absolutely no comprehensive plan on the development side. Hendry & Co had their issues, some of which were ownership issues; but they could (and still can) evaluate talent with the best of them.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    That's a good point. They did scout well and Castillo was all about the scouting end. All about the tools, but no stats to back it up and a pretty slow development at the time.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Makes you wonder if this FO had handled Beef's development, would he A). been up sooner and B). Have a better chance at becoming Yadier-Lite?...

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    OT, but Keith Law posted his Top 10 Cubs prospects. The list is the usual suspects, except that he has Corey Black at #9. That's a big surprise. He likes his stuff like everyone else, but unlike everyone thinks he can remain a starter.

    The ESPN guys all seem to hate Dan Vogelbach; he was not on the list, and I know Law has sent some snark Dan's way

  • In reply to Zonk:

    I got some love for Black when I made my list too. Also Skulina. Interesting list. Mine will be different, but definitely can see where he's coming from on a couple of these. I don't know about #9 for Black, but I know that people do like him.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    I think a lot of us that follow the system seem to be in agreement on the top 6 or so prospects, but beyond that the guys between 7-15 or even up to 20 are pretty even and a case could be made for any of them to be put over another. I've never seen Black pitch, but he supposedly has velocity and at least three pitches, so if someone like Law thinks he can overcome his lack of size than the ranking probably isn't farfetched.

  • Ken Rosenthal ‏@Ken_Rosenthal 14s
    Sources: #Cubs in agreement with free-agent RHP Jason Hammel, pending a physical.

    That works for me...

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    In reply to North Side Irish:

    Damn you're fast. Yep, I like this signing.

  • In reply to North Side Irish:

    Assuming he signed for less than what we gave Baker last year I am fine with it.

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    In reply to North Side Irish:

    According to MLBTR, Orioles wanted him back, but couldn't guarantee a starting slot. I'm sure we could.

    We are probably hoping to repeat the Feldman experience; sign him cheap, give him starts, build value, trade for something long term.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    I'm thinking he's guaranteed a spot, that's pretty much how they were able to land Feldman too.

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    I assume with Hammel's signing our Rotation is pretty set, with Shark, Wood, E-Jax, Arrieta, and Hammel, probably in that order......and with Grimm, Hendricks, Rusin at Iowa in case of ineffectiveness/injury, and Carlos V serving as starter/swingman at ML level

  • Hey John, I think some of us had Jason Hammel listed... I hope somebody wins the 11 FA's contest, I think Hammel is the tie breaker from 0 to 1 LOL.

  • In reply to Caps:

    If I were in the contest I would have certainly have taken Hammel ;) He was the best bet for me. I liked Arroyo, but Hammel was the best value out there.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Yeah, I think we talked about this... And he's flexible enough to be valuable out of the bullpen as well, he can run his fastball around the mid 90's from the pen.

  • In reply to Caps:

    The guys I have listed for Jason Hammel are Waitingon2015, Mick, Bill Newton, and skook32.

    None of those guys guessed Wada, who also had 4 guesses. Now we have an 8 way tie for first!

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    wow, well that's something lol... That's more than expected... That happens when you don't guess Mitch Maier or Aaron Cunningham lol.

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    Love the article John,

    I also like the small mention of Chadd Krist. I saw him several times last year. Being a catcher from back in the day, a guy like Christ really tugs at the heart strings. Sure hope he keeps working hard and we get to see him at Wrigley in 2 or 3 years.

    As far as the draft goes, I can't see the Cubs using their #1 or #2 picks to select a catcher unless that catcher happens to be Johnny Bench. In the past I loved the best player available idea but this might be the year we just take the best "pitcher" available. I just hope one of the top 3 are still available.

    Damn you White Sux!

  • Excellent article, John, love all of the breakdowns on the potential catching candidates the Cubs have.

    As Castillo grows in the nuances of handling pithers, and pitch calling in general, do you think this may have a hidden and significant impact to the performance of the starting staff? I'm hoping the starters surprise and be above average this year, due in large part to Castillo. Does this make much sense? It seems to me that Molina has a big impact on the performance of the Cards' staff.

  • Catcher isn't a popular position for youngsters for obvious reasons, but it and pitching are the most important. Once a young baseball player takes up catching, it is then hard to settle for another position on the field because they are boring in comparison. Catching is like point guard in basketball or quarterback in football as a lot more then physical skills are required. One most have a feel for the game, leadership, and piss and vinegar toughness.

  • This isn't on subject, John, but today is:

    Ernie Banks' birthday!!!

    Mr. Cub is 83 years old today!

  • In reply to Tinker Evers Chance:

    Woohoo! Happy Birthday Ernie!

  • In reply to Tinker Evers Chance:

    Happy birthday, Ernie! Happy birthday, Ernie! For him, you have to say it 2 times, in honor of Mr. 'Lets' play 2!'

  • What I like about this years team is almost everybody has a good shot at improving on their 2013 numbers. It wouldnt suprise me if Welly, Riz, Starlin, Shark, and Ejax all have much better years. Now im not expecting a playoff run, but this team could really improve as a whole.

    Not to mention the fact that if we do sell off short term guys at the deadline, we will most likely be replacing them with top prospects instead of DFA guys.

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    Don't look now, someone just stole another base off Chirinos. lol

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