Big year ahead for Welington Castillo

One of the more interesting players to watch in 2013 will be Welington Castillo.  It’s an unusual situation in that the Cubs are entrusting the young catcher with the keys to a veteran pitching staff and there is nobody behind him except for journeyman Dioner Navarro and fellow 1st year catcher Steve Clevenger.

Always known as a player with impressive physical tools, Castillo has gradually refined his game.  He has improved his approach at the plate and has worked hard to learn the nuances of receiving and managing a game behind the dish.

In fact, Dale Sveum singled him out for those efforts last season,

“What he’s done in the last six months has been the most impressive of anybody, and he’s the most improved guy I’ve seen this season.”

The catcher’s response?

“I want to be a leader one day, and why not start now?” Castillo said. “They’re giving me an opportunity to be an everyday catcher and I think I have to take advantage of that and start doing that now. I feel really good and appreciate the confidence they have in me.”

The work and the praise has continued this offseason.  At the convention, bench coach and former catcher Jamie Quirk had this to say,

Welington Castillo is light years from where he was last year. He has all of the physical tools to be Yadier Molina.

A lofty comparison perhaps but the Cubs are counting on Castillo to be a major piece of the puzzle, perhaps a long term piece that the Cubs can add to their growing young core.

There are some concerns that Castillo had a bit of luck offensively.  You can cite that unusually high .348 BABIP for starters, but statistical prognosticators don’t seem too concerned.  Bill James projects a .252/.316/.423 line with 13 HRs, and a slightly below league average .318 wOBA .  ZiPS is more conservative at .240/.309/.398 with 12 HRs and a .307 wOBA.  CAIRO is the most optimistic with a roughly average .326 wOBA with slash line of .249/.316/.430.

Coming from a young catcher with the potential for great defensive skills, I’ll take that kind of power and general offensive production considering there is still upside beyond those numbers.

If Castillo disappoints, it puts the Cubs in a bit of  bind.  They can finish the season with Navarro in the hopes that he can hold the fort by handling the staff and controlling the running game, but he is not a long term solution as a starter.  Neither is Steve Clevenger, who projects more as a lefty hitting backup.

Good catchers are rare commodities so trading for one is problematic but there are two all-star catchers who may hit free agency next offseason: Brian McCann and Carlos Ruiz.  McCann is just 28 and may still have a few good years left in him but Ruiz is 34 and the Cubs run the risk of overpaying for past performance.  McCann is no sure thing either as his performance dropped off last season, posting a 2.o WAR,  his lowest since the 2007 season and only the second time he’s dipped below a WAR of 4.1.  A second down year would raise some concerns while a resurgent year would raise the price tag, a price that would almost certainly include draft pick compensation.

It’s in the Cubs best interest that Castillo continues his progress and while he may not fully establish himself in 2013, the Cubs would like to see him show enough to be a catcher they can count on for the next few years.  The team doesn’t need a ton from him next season.  He’ll be asked to handle the staff, control the running game, grind out ABs, and hit the occasional dinger.  If he can do that, then I think we should be satisfied and optimistic about the Cubs future behind the plate.

If not, it’s back to the drawing board.  As it is, we should expect the Cubs to draft a catcher or two for the long term to keep the pipeline going.  The Cubs have some solid contact-hitting, catch and throw types like Rafael Lopez and Chadd Krist, as well as my favorite catching prospect, the talented but raw Wilson Contreras.  None, however, are sure things, especially as starters.

Castillo, however, is the key and his continued progress would give the Cubs another core player, potentially giving them value as a cost-controlled player at a premium position — even at those somewhat modest levels of offensive production that are projected for him next season.  The Cubs would like nothing better than to have Castillo seize the job and allow them to focus on other areas of need for 2014 and beyond.

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  • I totally love this new regime's plan: trade away players that don't fit into the long term plan and gradually progress the players they think will be stellar stop gaps. IMO Welington fits this mold. The FO made it clear at last year's convention. He wants to be leader, has good fielding tools and isn't a bad hitter. I guess maybe the only negatives are his injuries. I think he's had nagging injuries every year for a while now.

    I would like to point something out....Does anyone remember Geo Soto? He was a fan favorite and after he won the ROY everyone assumed he'd be the catcher of the future. I guess what I'm trying to prove is maybe we shouldn't fall in love with a certain player. A go example of this is Tony Campana. He's exciting to watch but he doesn't seem to fit the club's future plan. When Almora, Jackson, and Soler come up this won't even be a thought.

  • In reply to WillieG1:

    It's tough to get yourself a catcher who can be average or better year in and year out and no team knows that better than the Cubs. Whether its Soto or Rick Wilkins or many seems it's difficult to get a long stretch of consistent good play at the position. We'll be lucky if we get it from Castillo -- but if they do, it'll be a huge bonus for them.

  • One thing I would add is that catchers are expected to shoulder less of the offensive load thanks to the difficult and specialized nature of the position. A .317 wOBA would probably be above average for NL catchers.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    Excellent point Eddie. And if Castillo provides the defense, management, and controls the running game the way they hope, they'll be more than thrilled with that from him.

  • If the FO believes what they say about Castillo, then I think there's room for high expectations of him. I, for one, am intrigued by his size and strength. He already has some pop and I think he will grow into a good power source, say 20 dingers. Time will tell, but we go right back to how they develop this young man. Right now, I expect the development centers on managing the game and handling whomever is on the mound, but once that has gotten up to speed, I think he will be able to tweak his hitting and do some damage.

  • In reply to cubs1969:

    Agreed 100%. They seem to love his attitude and makeup, which is key to developing that talent. Manage the game, control baserunners, and pop one out of the yard every so often and that alone makes you a solid MLB catcher. Hoping Castillo can be at least that, but as you say, he has room to be a bit more as he continues to develop over time.

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    Consider me a bit of a skeptic on Castillo's contact skills; that BABIP is suspiciously high to me too. With a normalized BABIP, he would have hit .220 or so last year, and our viewpoint might be completely different.

    I hope I'm wrong, but I would like to see him make more consistent contact

    It is good to see improvement behind the plate

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    In reply to Zonk:

    Same here. His BABIP is unsustainable and his avg will drop. But it's nice to see his footwork and defense improving, that was his biggest flaw in my book. A good defensive catcher who hits 15 hr's is still a very valuable player even if he hits .220.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Agreed with that concern. Contact isn't his strength. He takes a huge rip. Perhaps he can tone it down a bit with two strikes and maybe that will help -- but he's always been aggressive, even as he's learned to work counts. He doesn't get cheated up there. Cubs will have to try and balance that aggressiveness without taking it away. I suspect they'll sacrifice a little contact if it means more extra base power.

  • Gotta like Quirk's comparison to Molina. I think Beef's gonna struggle offensively at times, but I see him having enough pop to be an everyday catcher. Catcher spot isn't overly demanding as far as offensive production anyway. Look forward to seeing what a full year's numbers are for him. Gonna be watching McCann's numbers now too. Didn't realize he was only 28. Seems like a good fit if we have to go the FA route.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    The pop is what's intriguing to me. Catchers aren't usually going to run well or hit for high averages, so if you got a guy who can go yard once in a while, I think that's a nice bonus. If he can become the kind of leader behind the plate they think he can, then I think they'll have their guy for the next 5-6 years.

  • Looking at McCann's WAR drop last year, he had a .234 babip, so maybe just bad luck.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    Luck probably played a role there and, as some mentioned, he had some injuries too. I look for him to be better in 2013 and then the question becomes how much does he have left going into his 30s.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    It is a little scary he dropped off a year and a half ago. Don't know anything about his injury, could it have started then? He does have a lot of years on him for a catcher, despite his age. Kind of reminds me of EJax's arm. I'm still betting he bounces back, but we'll see.

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    McCann played hurt last year, and his numbers really suffered (as did my fantasy team - he's been my catcher since his rookie year). He had surgery in the off-season, and might miss the first couple weeks, but if he's healthy again, he should bounce back. Especially in his walk year. I may not get him back on my team, though - probably not keeping him again after 2 down years (2nd half of '11 was also awful). Which means he'll probably put up huge #'s!

  • In reply to brober34:

    It has been a trend of about 1 1/2 years now, good observation. Knowing that catchers tend to age quicker, it's worth monitoring. McCann already has a lot of miles on him.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    He also plays in Atlanta, with all that wonderfull heat and humidity, and not only in Atl. Also plays 9 games /yr in Washington and Miami, so an Atl catcher is subject to difficult weather 100 plus games per year. Same with Texas-Jim Sundberg wore down every year he was there.

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    I am a fan of Castillo, that being said I recently looked at his splits versus righties last year and they were not very good at all, .195/.273/.336. I know it is a small sample size but those numbers must get better. I do love the comparison to Molina though.

  • In reply to Kevin:

    Maybe more consistent play against RHP will help. Clevenger was still getting a lot of ABs against them until late in the year.

  • In reply to Kevin:

    Ill take 90% of Yadier Molina.

  • McCann might be 28 right now, but he will turn 30 by the time the 2014 season begins... There's still Jarrod Saltalamacchia as well... But teams will probably be all over these catchers, making it difficult to grab one of them without overpaying silly... Best we can hope for is for Castillo to pan out... I think Castillo is more like Miguel Olivo than Yadier Molina... I'd be OK if he puts Miguel Olivo type of production as long as he's solid defensively.

  • In reply to Caps:

    Good point on McCann's age. I wrote his current age and that overstated his youth. I'll take Olivo numbers with a better walk rate and good defense/leadership behind the plate. Sounds good to me!

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Yeah, I should've mentioned that Olivo has terrible plate discipline, so, like you say, I'd take Olivo-type numbers with a better walk rate, well said.

  • I'm really looking forward to seeing how Castillo does this year. Will he be able to make adjustments at the plate? Cut down on his swing with 2 strikes to make more contact? And most importantly, will his physical tools turn into great performance defensively?

    This year is really going to be interesting in that it will put into full relief which players will be part of the future and which they will cut ties with and look for answers elsewhere... this is particularly true for Stewart and Castillo among the position players.

  • In reply to Pura Vida:

    Agreed. And I'll add Jackson to that group. If he can show he's a piece going forward that saves them another move this offseason as well.

  • I belive both Molina and Ruiz started as good defensive catchers and added offense after 3 or 4 years in the league. I wouldn't mind the same progression for Castillo. I think this a good approach and shows that both players kept working at their game and kept getting better. This is opposite of Soto. Players that keep getting better is the exact type the new managment wants. I belive Castro has also shown signs of this, although his average slipped last year, but he picked up in other areas. I hope his comments about passing on the WBC is the same type of thinking and not just sour grapes for being a backup.

  • In reply to cubman:

    The lingering cynicism toward Castro continues to puzzle me. Even when this guy does something for the team over his own individual accolades he gets knocked. Maybe someone could explain this to me because I just don't get it.

    He would have been honored to play even as a backup. There was a strong appeal for him. It wasn't an easy decision. If you know Castro and his background, he's extremely respectful of his elders and I can't even envision him in a scenario where he would feel entitled to play over a veteran like Jose Reyes.

    Castro has said repeatedly that he wants to become a better ballplayer and has intended to work hard to get there all off-season. That was said even before the WBC was a factor.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    My view on Castro: over the course of 2 months in the middle of a grueling season he managed to change his approach at the plate -- an approach he had been using for most of his life, if not all of it. All the rest of this is just noise. I don't care if he's the most selfish jerk on the face of planet earth, he can play on my team.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Agreed. In the end it's his production that matters. If he's hitting .300/.350/.450 with good defense but he doesn't do it with a gritty vibe and a soiled uniform, then that's fine by me. It worked just fine for Ryne Sandberg.

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    Not too worried about Castillo's bat. A hitting catcher is just icing on the cake. Am more concerned with his glove work. He reaches for far too many pitches instead of moving his body and getting in front of the pitch in the dirt. He improved light years at this as the year went on but he is still light away.

  • In reply to Richard Cleven:

    He's a work in progress. I'm not sure he's light years away. I think he just needs playing time so he can do the right things more consistently. In my opinion he just needs to settle in to where it starts to become more instinctive instead of consciously thinking about technique all the time. That takes time and experience -- and he should get that this year.

  • In reply to John Arguello:


  • John,
    Do you know what Castillo has been doing over the winter? Played ball anywhere?

  • In reply to cubster:

    Working on his game in the DR I believe but not playing organized ball.

  • From what Ive seen of Beef so far, He appears to be a decent power type(15-20 Hr if he gets 500AB) has a good throwing arm, but appears shaky in handling pitchers. I remember a game in Milwaukee last year, He caught Garza and the way he was catching the breaking ball most have cost Garza 10 pitches that should have been strikes. Garza ended up pitching only 5 innings and Cubs lost the game in extras. Hope that part of his game has improved.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    I agree. He needs some help on framing pitches. I see Posey nearly every game he catches and he is superb at helping an umpire make the right call.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Same with Molina, or even Javy Lopez when the Braves Had Maddux/Glavine /Smoltz down in Atlanta during the 90s. How many games did you see any of them walk a bunch of hitters? Or even throw a bunch of pitches per game or per inning.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    I think that's what Sveum and Quirk are trying to point out. He wasn't polished from day one, they're talking about how much he improved by the end of the season and how there is even more room to grow. They're looking at the longer term picture. A particular game or two may stand out as good or bad, but they seem to be more focused on his rapid progression throughout the season.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    The trajectory is more important to me this season than the final numbers. His arrow is pointing up. If it's still pointing up in November, the Cubs have something.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    Yes, absolutely. We want to see the good peripherals and skills associated with those numbers that project to continued improvement. Good numbers for the sake of good numbers can be deceiving.

  • Much has been made of our lack of pitching talent in the minors, but talent at catcher is an equally rare commodity throughout the system. This draft is supposed to be deep with HS Catching. Any names we should be keeping an eye on as potential 2nd round picks? (I still think we take a college arm in round 1.)

  • John Sickels released his farm system rankings...Cubs are #10, which is up from #20 last year. Big improvement.

    Cardinals are #1, which is becoming more and more common. Padres and Red Sox are both ahead of the Cubs which is also promising.

  • In reply to North Side Irish:

    Thank you for the link!

  • In reply to North Side Irish:

    Yup thanks for the link.

  • It would be higher if their top prospects were closer to the majors and they had more pitching prospects. I think their ranking will go up next year and after that. I expect them to be in the top 3 in the next two years. Of course, if their top players don't perform, the higher ranking won't happen. Weren't they number one on Baseball America's ranking when they had Choi, Kelton, Patterson, Montanex, Hill, etc.? I may have the group wrong, but I'm sure they were number one at some point 8 -15 years ago.

  • In reply to cubman:

    I actually think it was 2002, when we had Prior, Guzman, Brownlie in the minors and several of the above position players(Choi, B Hill, Patterson) about ready to break into the bigs. Injury issues really hurt that group.

  • I remember one year BA had Patterson as number 2 and Hamilton as number 1. In another year they had Prior as number 2 and Beckett as number 1. I think Juan Cruz even made it to the top ten one year.

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