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updated: 2/16/2014 8:41 PM

Castillo looks to take next step for Cubs

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  • Chicago Cubs catcher Welington Castillo catches during the team's first spring training baseball practice, Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, in Mesa, Ariz.

      Chicago Cubs catcher Welington Castillo catches during the team's first spring training baseball practice, Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, in Mesa, Ariz.
    Associated Press

 
 

Welington Castillo got his opportunity last season to be the Cubs' No. 1 catcher, and he ran with it.

Until he could run no more.

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Castillo's 2013 season ended in late September when he needed arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.

Before that Castillo had a nice year, both with the bat and behind the plate. He's back at the Cubs' new spring-training facility in Mesa, Ariz., and apparently ready to go.

Castillo always was a good offensive catcher, racking up five seasons of double-digit home run totals in the minor leagues. Last season in 113 games with the big club, he put up a line of .247/.349/.397 with 8 homers and 32 RBI.

The one question to ask about Castillo is whether he can maintain his batting-average and on-base numbers, which were fueled by a high .347 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). If some of those hits find gloves instead of grass, his numbers will go down.

However, the one encouraging sign for the Cubs was Castillo's increasing walk rate as the season wore on. In April he walked just one time in 77 at-bats. By July, Castillo drew 10 walks in 52 at-bats, and in August it was 10 walks in 62 at-bats.

On defense, Castillo has been a work in progress, as is the case with most young catchers. His defensive WAR (wins above replacement) was 2.8 last year, and that led all major-league catchers. Castillo went 21-for-88 (23.9 percent) in throwing out runners, although some stats services give him credit for 28-for-95 (29 percent) because he was on the field when the pitcher caught a runner stealing.

The Cubs want Castillo to get better at "framing" pitches behind the plate so that their pitchers have a chance at getting the benefit of the doubt on balls at the corners.

It also will be interesting to watch the Cubs' situation at backup catcher. Last year veteran Dioner Navarro was an important mentor to Castillo, and he also had a career year at the plate, batting .300 with 13 homers.

Navarro signed with Toronto this off-season, and the Cubs have turned to another veteran, George Kottaras. The 30-year-old Kottaras has played for Boston, Milwaukee, Oakland and Kansas City, putting up a career hitting line of .214/.324.406 with 29 homers.

bmiles@dailyherald.com

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