Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
When you talk about the Chicago Cubs, there isn’t a whole lot happening as far as the word “elite” goes. Sure, you mention names like Javier Baez and Kris Bryant and their potential as elite players at the Major League level, while mentioning that Starlin Castro has the potential to return to that elite level that he was approaching in 2011 and 2012. Yet, little is often mentioned of the elite player that already makes his way into the Cubs’ lineup every day.
That player is Welington Castillo. Very early in the offseason, we heard of the Cubs shopping Castillo around, but nothing came of that. What likely happened was that the Cubs realized that they already possessed a top notch catcher and a true building block behind the plate. While he doesn’t come with the fanfare of a guy like Yadier Molina, the argument can be made that Castillo is well on his way to joining a league with the likes of him.
From an offensive standpoint, Welington Castillo represents one of the better backstops in the game. Castillo’s .274 average ranked sixth among catchers last year, fifth if you throw out former catcher, now first baseman Joe Mauer. His on-base percentage, up at .349, was also top five among catchers, as is his walk rate over the last two seasons. He doesn’t possess 20 home run power, but he has some pop, perhaps to the tune of 15 or so, and gets on base regularly. Entering his second full season as the Cubs’ starting catcher, we could see him take another step forward with the stick.
Castillo is impressive with the bat, and he should easily take that next step and become one of the best offensive catchers in the game in 2014. Yet, where he’s even more impressive is what he actually does behind the plate. Truly flying under the radar, Castillo’s development as a defensive catcher has come quickly and it has been extremely impressive.
Fangraphs has Castillo ranked as the fifth best defensive catcher from the 2013 season. He saved 19 runs behind the plate, easily the best in the league, while going for a .988 fielding percentage. The 28 baserunners he threw out last year were the second most in the league, behind only Russell Martin. His numbers aren’t the best in the league across the board, but what makes what he achieved last year so impressive is the fact that he was working with such a lackluster pitching staff. His RPP, which measures how many runs above average he is at blocking pitches, was at 3.1, which represented another top five figure for Castillo.
Castillo isn’t quite Yadier Molina. He doesn’t make as much happen with the bat as Buster Posey. But he is an extremely solid catcher across the board. He does everything well. He’s improving in handling a pitching staff and getting even better defensively, where he is already among the league’s best. As long as he maintains that consistency at the plate, there’s no doubt that Welington Castillo is a true building block for a Chicago Cubs team that needs them.