Back-Up Catcher Competition May Be Down to Two

Geovany Soto, whenever his groin relents, will be the Chicago Cubs’ starting catcher in 2012. Who will back him up, however, remains open to debate. After a few years of the Koyie Hill Experience, Cubs fans have learned to be, perhaps, overly interested in the back-up catcher spot.

Then again, given that the back-up catcher, setting aside injuries, plays more than any other back-up on the team, perhaps he merits the kind of extra consideration we give him.

This year, the options for back-up catcher are prospect Welington Castillo, fringier prospect Steve Clevenger, and veteran Jason Jaramillo. Coming into camp, it was a fair guess that Jaramillo, with extensive big league experience, was the favorite. But, after a lingering quad injury kept him out of action (and is still keeping him out of action), Jaramillo is probably far behind the other two competitors.

Castillo, 24, and Clevenger, 25, are ticketed for Iowa if they don’t make the big club. Neither is an obvious future starter at the big league level, though Castillo probably has a hair more upside. If true, the best outcome could be Clevenger settling into a big league back-up role, and Castillo getting regular starts at AAA.

However things shake out, manager Dale Sveum admits it’s going to be a tough decision.

“It’s going to be a tough call for that at the end of spring,” Sveum said Wednesday. “[Castillo and Clevenger are] both doing a great job, they both have things they can contribute. It’s one of those things – who knows what will happen at the end? They’ve both been working as hard as anybody in camp. They’re receiving tremendous, calling games, both can swing the bat a little bit. It’ll be an interesting call at the end of this month.”

As for Jaramillo, Sveum has all but ruled him out of the competition.

“That window is closing, especially with these other two guys doing a good job,” Sveum said of Jaramillo’s chances. “He needs to get on the field to show us what he can do.”

Sveum presumably hopes to have the decision made with a week or so to spare in camp. In some ways, the Soto injury has been a great benefit to Sveum in the decision-making process. He’s had plenty of time to see Castillo and Clevenger.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

27 responses to “Back-Up Catcher Competition May Be Down to Two”

  1. WGNstatic

    Typically, I am very much in favor of keeping a true prospect at AAA for everyday experience. That said, a catcher spot may be an exception. The backup C will still get a fair number of starts. Also, a very important part of the catching experience is learning how to call a big league game from big league pitchers. So, a guy like Castillo may get as much out of 1-2 starts per week and catching a veteran like Dempster to learn the ropes of being a big league catcher, as he would were he to be catching most everyday at AAA.

  2. Justin Jabs

    I thought this was decided with the bunt tourney results…?

  3. Erik

    I agree with WGN here. Castillo seems like a great fit here. He could use the big league time to get in the groove. Last year his time in the big leagues were yielded by Koyie. I think this kid deserves a shot

  4. Spencer

    I’d like to see Castillo land the spot. He performed well last year, and is doing good work this spring so far as well.

  5. Luke

    I think at this stage, Castillo is generally viewed as a starting catcher, but not a star-potential starting catcher.  He calls a decent game and does a fair job controlling the running game, with room for realistic improvement in both areas, and he has enough power to earn respect at the plate, but he is strikeout prone.  I think he’ll be better than a bad Soto season, but not as good as a good Soto season.

    Clevenger is just about every manager’s dream backup catcher.  He can play a little first or third (not enough to start everyday, but enough to give a manager some flexibility).  He’s a left handed hitter with power and patience.  His game calling really improved last season, as did his effectiveness at controlling the running game.  But he also has spent little time in Triple A.  I’d like to see him get that extra seasoning before he comes to the majors on a regular basis.

    I think opening the season with Castillo as Soto’s backup is the way to go, but I also think the Cubs should explore trading Soto.  I’d like to see Castillo and Clevenger both in the majors in the second half, but teams rarely run with two rookie catchers, so I don’t think that’s going to happen.

    1. CubFan Paul

      I expect the 2nd half of the season rotation to be w/o Garza (if not extended), Dempster, and possibly Maholm if be he’s healthy too. Might as well let the rookies catch samardzija, wood, volstad, Rusin, & jay jackson/mcNutt

    2. Andrew

      There aren’t many catchers that are better than Soto when hes having a good season.

    3. hansman1982

      Based on your write-up there, I wouldn’t mind seeing the Cubs carry both catchers if Baker is dealt at the deadline and LaHair falls on his face (or is dealt at the deadline). Having Clevenger on the roster would give you the opportunity to give him AB’s at 1st and 3rd while allowing Sveum to start Castillo and sub-in Soto later in the game for more offense while maintaining a backup-catcher option.

  6. Rob

    Though I am not, in any way, trying to compare Wellington Castillo to Brett Jackson in terms of upside or anything else – I feel the same way about him that I do Jackson. That is, since he is not going to start 5 games per week behind the dish, let him start everyday at Triple-A and let the fringier prospect (Clevenger) get the back-up role in the bigs. With Soto, I can’t help but feel like he is going to get pretty expensive and a little older before the Cubs are really ready to get after it, and he could be traded for prospects during one of his better offensive seasons. If that is the case, I think we would all be glad Castillo, who seems to have a decent bat, was getting regular playing time at AAA and not working closer to arbitration already.

    1. Noah

      I agree with you, Rob. Castillo is a guy who could really use continuing to work on a few things every day (calling a game behind the plate and patience at the plate). Clevenger’s value is more as a guy who is in fact capable of catching while being able to hit a bit left handed, but he’s not going to add more than that. Let Clevenger be the back up this year with the idea that Castillo would get most of the starts if Soto is either injured or traded.

  7. Chris84

    It’s really refreshing having a manager on board who is actually honest and says stuff instead of making up nicknames and giving non-answers. Sveum keeps winning me over. That being said, we’ll see how I feel once the season starts.

  8. colocubfan

    I love some of the player’s subtle little jabs comparing this year to last! Quade was a mistake from Day 1!

  9. MaxM1908

    I’m being won over by Sveum in seeing what the Cubs are focusing on developing in Spring Training games. They’re working on small game skills, bunting, base running, etc. There just seems to be a much greater focus on fundamentals than in years past. That makes me excited about the season. I don’t think they’ll be a contender or anything, but I think they’ll look like a better team than last year.

  10. die hard

    Soto may have to stay back and start on DL if this lingers further which means 2 of the kids will have to go north

  11. willie

    Apparently according to the tribune, Wellinton said that Geo keeps tellin him to
    take his job.

  12. rbreeze

    Didn’t the Cubs have two rookie catchers in 1988-1989 timeframe.

    Joe Girardi and Rick Wrona may have been rookies in the same season?

    1. DocWimsey

      Yes, and Damon Berryhill (who should have had a great career) was a rookie in 1988. Berryhill was part of “Growing Young Gracefully” with Maddux, Moyer, Dunston, Palmeiro and Grace. Heck, even Ryno was still in his 20′s then!

      1. TWC

        Man, 1989… what a team.  Fun, fun season.

        1. DocWimsey

          I was at Game #2 of the NLCS, which was the only game that the Cubs won. It was actually not a good game (the Cubs batted around in the first inning, with Dwight Smith making both the 1st and 3rd outs on wicked liners), but it was the Cubs winning in post-season. It’s the only post-season game I’ve ever attended!

  13. rbreeze

    Jerome Walton won ROY that year and Dwight Smith was second?  Great team under Zimmer.  But they ran into that damn Will Clark!!!

    1. TWC

      No, they ran into Matt Williams.  Will Clark just ran all over them.

      1. DocWimsey

        That series might have gone differently if Andre Dawson had been allowed to bring 2 knees to the games.

        1. TWC

          The discussions on this site this morning of our ill-fated playoff experiences of ’84, ’89, and ’03 are really bringing me down.

          I’m looking forward to Volstad’s no-hitter today.

          1. Luke

            So far so good for Volstead.

  14. rbreeze

    TWC, good one.

    I wonder what Sveum will look like when he gets pissed and starts tearing into an umpire.  Will he get bug-eyed and red in the face like Zim?????????

  15. MikeW

    Welington doesn’t need more time at AAA. Time for him to be Geo’s caddy, play a couple times a week and see if he’s got the stick to potentially replace Geo.