By Paul Sullivan, Tribune reporter
12:01 AM CDT, October 8, 2012
The Chicago Cubs believe they have a piece of their core in place in the catcher’s spot, so there should be no need to look for one this offseason.
Welington Castillo earned the starting job with a .265 average, though he hit only .195 against right-handers in 128 at-bats. They’d still like to see him take charge more with his pitching staff, and not let the starters veer from the game plan.
Castillo, 25, has come a long way. But he still has a ways to go, and it wasn’t that long ago the Cubs thought Geovany Soto was going to be their catcher for years to come.
The Cubs went into the 2012 season trying to decide between Steve Clevenger and Castillo as the back-up to Soto, who was coming off a bad season, hitting .228 in 2011.
“They’re doing a phenomenal job,” Soto said early in spring training. “They're eager and willing. I tell them all the time, 'Come for my job.' That's the name of the game, to push them to work harder. The better they get, the better I get."
Both rookie catchers performed well in their Cactus League auditions, to the point where manager Dale Sveum said: "Somebody is just going to get (robbed), basically.”
As it turned out, Castillo was the one who got robbed, going to Triple-A Iowa to get more playing time while the left-handed hitting Clevenger was given the back-up spot.
It looked like the right move, since Soto got most of the playing time anyway, even though he didn’t hit, because the Cubs were looking to trade him. Clevenger hit .500 with five doubles in his first 22 at-bats, before suffering a right oblique injury in Philadelphia, giving Castillo his shot.
But Castillo sprained his right knee in late May, and eventually went back to Iowa. It wasn’t until Soto was traded to Texas on July 30 that he got his real shot. In his final 38 games after Soto left, Castillo hit .314 with nine doubles four homers and 18 RBIs, establishing himself as the starter. He threw out 17.5 percent of attempted base-stealers (7-of-40), as opposed to 11.8 percent (6-of-51) by Clevenger.
Sveum said in September that Castillo probably would be the everyday catcher in 2013.
“He has definitely made probably the biggest progress of anybody on the team right now,” Sveum said. “On a whole, the changes he’s made in 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.”
Clevenger didn’t hit after returning from his oblique injury, hitting .164 (29-for-177) to wind up with a .201 average, including .069 against left-handers. The Cubs likely will have both back in 2013, though they added another kid in Anthony Recker to the mix in September.
Acquiring a veteran backup is not out of the question, though not a priority on a rebuilding team like the Cubs.
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