Even after the Chicago Cubs signed one of the better back-up catchers available in free agency, Welington Castillo was expected to be the “starting” catcher in 2013. With catchers, “starting” is often a nominal concept, given that the back-up receives so many starts because of the demanding physical nature of the job.
But some comment from manager Dale Sveum, and some zealous interpretation in the media, suggested there could be something of a competition behind the plate.
Not so. There’s no competition, but Castillo may not be starting quite as much as other catchers.
“Welington is the everyday catcher,” Sveum told the media, including ESPN. That is to say, Castillo is the starter. What that will mean as the season goes forward, however, is subject to necessary fluctuations.
“You’d like to see Welington start out his first year playing every day, catch right around 100 to 110 games,” Sveum said. “But that’s subject to change depending on his own production and how things are going.”
If Castillo catches just 100 games next year, and back-up Dioner Navarro gets 60 to 62, can you really call Castillo the “everyday catcher”? It doesn’t really matter to me, because I’d like to see that kind of split next year as Castillo eases his way into a full-time role. Ideally, your starting catcher would get 120 to 130 starts in a given season, assuming he’s considerably better than his back-up.
Right now, although Castillo’s offensive ceiling is much higher than Navarro’s, his overall game is unproven. His receiving skills came under fire repeatedly last year, and he battled some health issues. A conservative split that sees Navarro get more games than your typical back-up, then, is probably the right plan for 2013.
It’s worth noting that, although the projection systems out there don’t really love either catcher, they do project Castillo to be a bit better offensively than Navarro. ZIPS has Castillo at a .240/.312/.398 slash line, and Navarro at just .246/.308/.374. PECOTA likes Castillo quite a bit more than Navarro, with Castillo at .242/.314/.428 and Navarro at just .246/.305/.368.
Even a combination of those projections will be a huge improvement over the Cubs’ collective catching production last year. Geovany Soto hit an anemic .199/.284/.347 in 197 plate appearances, Steve Clevenger was somehow worse at .201/.260/.276 in his 215 plate appearances, and then there was Koyie Hill at .179/.179/.205 (that’s an OPS+ of 5 (yes, 5)) in his 39 plate appearances.
The Cubs’ third catcher will be Clevenger, who will head to AAA Iowa after Spring Training, and be the “everyday” catcher there.