By Nate Barnes
The Chicago Cubs have a laundry list of questions that need answering in the next few seasons when it comes to the makeup of their roster. But, seemingly, it looks like the Cubs have found a long-term solution behind the plate.
Welington Castillo entered the 2013 season after he played 52 games the year before and batted .265. 108 games later, nearly all of Castillo's numbers have improved and he's proved himself as Chicago's starting catcher for the foreseeable future as a result of what fellow backstop Dioner Navarro sees as his most valuable trait.
"His work ethic, he’s a hard worker," Navarro said. "He’s smart behind the plate, he knows what he’s doing. He goes and he reads the scouting reports and all the stuff."
Navarro knows what it's like to break into the big leagues with a lot of pressure. He was the New York Yankees' top prospect prior to the 2004 season, and sees a bright a future for Castillo after Castillo supplanted Navarro as the Cubs' starting catcher this season.
"The more you play the better you're gonna be," Navarro said. "I think if he keeps doing what he's doing, he's going to have a great career in front of him."
From the dugout, manager Dale Sveum has watched Castillo develop into a catcher he sees as one of the league's best.
"Welington, to me, is right there with (Yadier) Molina as the top defensive catcher in baseball," Sveum said. "Nobody blocks better, and it’s hard to really even say anyone throws better."
Sveum's observations are on the money, as Castillo is worth 2.6 Wins Above Replacement on defense. In addition, his eight passed balls and 27 runners caught-stealing are both the second-lowest totals in the National League.
While that defense has developed in Castillo's first season as a starter, the next step in his evolution will come in the batter's box. Castillo owns a 2.2 WAR on offense this season, but his .733 on-base plus slugging percentage is a hair over the league average.
"My offense, I know I can hit a little," Castillo said. "The more at-bats that I get, the more that I know the pitcher, and the more game time, so that takes time."
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Time isn't an excuse, though, and Castillo will be the first to tell anyone that.
"I don’t blame it on the time, I need to keep working," Castillo said. "If I make a mistake, right away I need to fix it."
Moving forward, Castillo will have every opportunity to address his mistakes and make improvements from now until the beginning of the 2014 season.
"I think he goes into camp next year as kind of a seasoned veteran where he can concentrate a little more on his offense all the time and probably be a lot better hitter in the long run," Sveum said. "Even though he’s been ok, there’s a lot more in that tank offensively than what we’ve seen."