Coming into the 2012 season, the Cubs had an interesting catching debate, and it wasn’t for the starting job. Geovany Soto still had some of that old sheen on him, but behind him was a pair of catchers that were dueling for the backup C job, neither a world-beater in the minors. One of the two was Steve Clevenger, the early favorite. He’d provide a left-handed bench bat and the ability to play first base. He won the job out of spring training and set the world on fire (with a .500/.522/.727 line in April) until getting hurt. Soto would take some time off with an injury as well.
Enter Welington Castillo.
He was called up on April 28 and was slotted into the 8th spot. A lot was made about his defensive catching abilities (or lack thereof), and people were ready to get Clevenger back in there (though most Cubs fans would readily admit that any option was better than Koyie Hill).
However, Welington Castillo was able to do at least one thing well, and that’s hit.
He hit .265/.337/.418 in 190 PA last year, which is not only acceptable for a catcher but quite good. Defensively, he was good for a 25% CS, trivially far from the league average of 27%. There certainly could be problems with his game-calling abilities, but that is anecdotal and in any case very hard for me to quantify. In any case, he played well enough (and Soto and Clevenger went cliff-diving) that he cemented himself as the starting catcher for 2013. Soto was traded and I’d be mildly surprised if Clevenger is on the Cubs 40-man on Opening Day.
The first thing to notice about Castillo’s line last year is that it was propped up considerably by a .348 BABIP. That’s a number that just isn’t going to be in Welington’s toolbox. I’d imagine that will come down to around .285 or .290, unless he has a much-improved hit tool. Take those singles out of the equation, and his line becomes much less savory- think .220/.300/.380.
He’s also a strike out risk. Last year, he struck out 26.8% of the time. That number is anywhere from 20 to 25% in the minors, too; he’s going to strike out a fair amount. On the other hand, he also draws his share of walks: around 10% in the minors, 9% in the majors last year. I think we can be confident that he’s not going to get overmatched as far as pitch selection goes.
Welington also saw 3.93 P/PA last season. That’s just a hair over the league average. It’s always an encouraging sign to see players that grind out their PA when they enter the league.
Castillo will not be stealing any bases any time soon.
It is going to be interesting to see how Castillo adjusts to the drop in BABIP next year. If he doesn’t improve somewhere else, he’s not going to be a very useful catcher, though he won’t kill the team either. If he does take a step forward (by being more comfortable in the majors, developing a little more power or contact), and repeats a line in the .260/.330/.410 territory, he’ll be a nice little piece.
I’m not expert on catcher defense. That being said, I’ll defer to some of the scouting reports, which say that’s he’s an average to above-average defender that has some problems with game managing. He also apparently doesn’t frame all that well. I think if those are actually problems, they are presumably very fixable.
I don’t think Welington is a “sexy” prospect. I think his ceiling isn’t that high and he’ll never be the cornerstone of a team. I do think, however, that his floor is pretty high. It doesn’t take many leaps to imagine a .240/.320/.430 guy at C with good defense. These players have value, and the Cubs need as many of them as they can get. There is no catching prospect even close to threatening in the pipeline, so Castillo is going to get every chance in the world to succeed. I believe he will.