With much of the of the Cubs lineup starting to fill out for the next few years, one of the few spots that is uncertain is catcher.
Welington Castillo is the obvious choice and front runner for next season, but is he a guarantee? Now, some fans might be wondering why get rid of Welington Castillo? Well, a couple of reasons, leadership, hitting performance, and Kyle Schwarber. Castillo, like Starlin Castro, has to prove he is worth the roster spot.
One of the Cubs big issues besides pitching is veteran leadership.
This past season, Justin Ruggiano and John Baker were the only Cub position players over the age of 30 and neither had any previous playoff experience. A name that has been flying around is Pirates catcher, Russell Martin, who would fit the bill of a veteran leader with tons of playoff experience. Including this upcoming postseason, Martin has been on 7 playoff teams during this 9-year career. He has been a key asset to the Pirates making the playoffs the past two seasons, which was why Clint Hurdle convinced him to sign with the Pirates two years ago.
Another reason for the possible switch is the regress of Castillo’s bat. With one series left his slash is .239/.297/.393, not what you want from a starting catcher, even if he is a defensive first one.
If Castillo wants to be a part of the future he needs do better than that, or he will end like another defensive specialist Cub, Darwin Barney. With Kyle Schwarber on the fast track to the show, next year may be Castillo’s last chance to prove he is more than a defensive catcher.
Regardless of the other possibilities, Castillo still remains the best option for next season. Beyond Martin, there are not many options in free agency. Castillo began taking extra time in prepping for games and Cub pitchers have taken notice of his leadership.
During spring training, then Cub Jeff Samardzija said that Castillo had made strides with pitchers; including himself and that there were times last season that they did not agree on what to pitch. Constantly dealing with new pitchers throughout the year is extremely difficult for a catcher.
They need to have a report on what their pitcher throws, how well, and command, and that does not include studying opposing hitters. Watching the success of Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, and Jeff Samardzija is credit to their pitching, but Castillo game calling, too.
Ultimately, Castillo will have to rebound offensively to have any chance as the future catcher for the Cubs. Castillo gained the starting job from Geovany Soto two years ago because of Soto’s struggles, and now Castillo finds himself in the same situation.
Over the past 2+ seasons for Castillo is 7.5 WAR according to baseballreference.com and has been an above average defender. Sabermetrics favor Castillo that he a better than average catcher, both offensively and defensively. The biggest task for Castillo is to be more consistent with his hitting, if he can keep his average north of .260, he will be in a great position to at least make the Cubs reconsider him.
This offseason will be centered around pitching, and I would be surprised if Welington was not the opening day starter. Unless the Cubs convince Russell Martin to not re-sign with an immediate contender, it will be Castillo job to lose…or keep warm until Schwarber is ready.