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.

  • http://bleachernation loyal100more

    do we really have to drop a hill comparison on a guy currently on the team…or in our system for that matter…ouch brett!

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I said only that his *numbers* were reminiscent of Koyie Hill. :)

      • http://bleachernation loyal100more

        even numbers wise, you know what a hill comparison could do to a guys baseball reputation? LOL

      • ssckelley

        Even their minor league numbers mirror each other. Both had good batting averages and OBP when they first came up although Hill was thought to have a little more power. Clevenger has gotten off to about the same start Hill did through his first 193 at bats.

  • http://www.backingthepack.com Rynomite

    Don’t forget Recker. He’ll likely be the #2. Apodaca, I think, is the name of the gentleman that had a very nice year between AA/AAA, but the season seems like an outlier compared to his past seasons and he’s a bit old. Probably more of organizational depth at this point. Clevenger/Apodaca will make for a very nice platoon…in IOWA.

    • P hertz

      That would be my assessment. Recker at #2 unless something goes drastically wrong…I get a feeling that Clevenger may be working his way off the team completely.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Recker will get a shot at number 2, but I have no reason to believe the Cubs are certain he’s that guy. He doesn’t even get the back-up starts now. Clevenger does. I’d be very surprised if there wasn’t some vet at least invited to camp next Spring.

  • BD

    May I add a left-handed hitting veteran backup catcher? Or is that asking too much?

    • Njriv

      I think a platoon behind the plate isn’t the best idea. I think they should find a veteran back-up and they should either trade Clev in some type of package deal or use him as a Napoli type alternating between Catching and filling in for Rizzo and playing first base here and there.

  • http://bleachernation loyal100more

    what about russel martin? could be cheap and have a bit of value at the deadline…

  • Brandon – AA Correspondent

    Steve Clevenger is an ideal bench guy on a big league team. he is left handed. Has a little pop. On an NL team; he makes the perfect double switch candidate, and he can play first base. If Brad Ausmus can catch in the big leagues for over a decade….so can Steve Clevenger.

    Apodaca is roster filler….and no where near the receiver or offensive threat that Clevenger is.

    Just my opinion.

    • Chris

      I have to agree with Brandon. Clevenger would be an ideal backup catcher, who can play 1st a bit too. Given the rash of catching injuries we had this season, it’s probably not a bad idea to have a veteran guy standing by at Iowa. Recker might be that guy. If somebody attractive is available that they can invite to spring training without contractual commitments, then go for it. But don’t spend too much time or money on this endeavor. There’s plenty more to do. With Clevenger’s flexibiilty to play a little 1st, and the likelihood that LaHair is gone next season, I wonder if there is flexibility to carry a 3rd catcher on the roster.

  • Featherstone

    According to BR Castillo has already put up a WAR of 1.2 in 41 games (151 PAs) which weighted over a season means he may be a 3-3.5 WAR player over a full season. In addition Fangraphs has him at a .331 wOBA with a league avg catcher being .307. (small sample size alert)

    Anyways, I’d love to get that kind of production out of the catcher spot on the cheap as Castillo will be under club control for at least another 6 years through his age 31 season. I don’t mind having Clevenger as the back-up as it would be a nice righty/lefty compliment and I think Clevenger would serve as a serviceable back-up also for cheap.

  • tjtrigo

    Not only would a veteran catcher be a good idea for Castillo next year, but also for all of the young arms Cubs will have next year.

  • JR

    Didn’t Sveum say Clevenger has “slump proof swing?” Dude’s been slumping for a long long time..

  • Cedlandrum

    People shouldn’t forget that Clevenger rushed back from an injury because Koyie Hill was catching games. So he really didn’t allow a side injury to heal. You haven’t seen Clevenger the hitter yet. He is not a .208 hitter.

    • JayAndersonJr

      Exactly. While he’s no star, he could become a very serviceable backup. I would say he’s more a .260/.320/350 type a player, which would do for a backup catcher. Nothing to back that up, JMHO. Also, the cubs will have control over both guys for the next 5-6 years. This means we can lock up that position and not have to worry about it for a long time. That’s a luxury. By the time we are competing, 2014-15, we’ll have 2 cheap, young Vets, still under club control for several years. This would be ideal.

  • notcubbiewubbie

    too bad the guy is the worst receiver in major league baseball. brutal more great news

  • steve

    I really like Castillo. He may never be a superstar, but I think he can be a very good catcher for the next few years, and solidify the position as one we need not be overly concerned about, like we have at 1st. I think right now I consider Castillo in the conversation as locks going into next year with Rizzo, Castro, Barney, Dejesus. I’m inclined to think that Soriano will be there as well, he’s proven he still can play, and without him we really have no one protecting Rizzo in the lineup.