Welington Castillo burst onto the scene after his breakout 2010 season at AAA Iowa, though prospect hounds had been following him for a couple years before that, when he was known as a light-hitting (with power potential), strong-armed, high-upside catching prospect.
He progressed gradually through the system, and, by the time that 2010 season rolled around, folks started thinking about him as a possible eventual replacement for Geovany Soto. And with Soto struggling for a couple years, leading to his midseason trade to the Rangers, the changing of the guard is at hand.
Dale Sveum sure sounds ready.
“[Castillo] has definitely made probably the biggest progress of anybody on the team right now,” Sveum told reporters this week. “On a whole, the changes he’s made on his defense, and calling a game and the preparation he’s been going through, his whole attitude has changed dramatically into an everyday catcher’s mindset right now.
“He is having a lot more fun understanding the progression he’s had to go through. Going into Spring Training, he’ll feel like he’s the everyday catcher. No matter what we do, he’s going to have that mentality that he’s going to catch 120 games next year.”
Note that Sveum stopped short of saying Castillo *will* be the guy, but the implication is obvious.
Castillo has been cold of late, but his .267/.344/.422 line is still good for a 107 OPS+ (7% better than league average), which is pretty great for a catcher. He’s not a future superstar at age 25, but he could become what Geovany Soto was at his best: an above-average offensive player, who happens to play catcher. If Castillo continues to improve his receiving skills, he could also be an average or above average defensive catcher. Of course, he’s going to have to also figure out how to turn that cannon of his into a productive vehicle for throwing guys out – his 20% caught stealing percentage is below the league average of 27%.
So where does this leave Steve Clevenger? Well, his ceiling has always been more on the back-up side of things, and his .207/.268/.285 line on the year calls even that modest role into question. Heck, if you clip out his first seven games of the year (remember when Sveum called Clevenger’s swing “slump-proof”?), his line is an more Koyie Hill-esque .170/.240/.233.
In other words, the questions of Castillo and Clevenger are no longer intertwined – Castillo is the starter going into 2013, and Clevenger is the guy fighting for a roster spot. It seems likely that the Cubs will bring in a veteran catcher, at least to compete with Clevenger in Spring Training for the back-up role (if Clevenger survives the Winter on the roster). Finding a mentor for Castillo couldn’t hurt.