Hometown: San Isidora, Dominican Republic
The catcherís position has long been a blackhole for the Cubs organization, whether itís keeping a catcher productive longterm or producing a homegrown talent. That is until the teamís recent influx of drafting catchers in the amateur draft and signing international talents that can play the position. Geovany Soto busted onto the scene in late 2007 and has continued his success in 2008, yet he was defensively ready for the bigs back in 2005.
Like Geovany, Castillo is an advanced defensive catcher with a strong arm. In opposite to Soto though, Welington has come to find his very advanced stick early in his career. For more on Castillo read on..
Welington was signed out of the Dominican by the Cubsí scout Jose Serra back in December of 2004 for a signing bonus around the neighborhood of 25-50 thousand dollars. He spent the 2005 season in the Dominican Summer League where he played almost exclusively as a designated hitter to wet his feet, build confidence and adjust to professional ball. Castilloís bat did not disappoint as in 60 games, he hit .289 with 59 hits, 28 runs, 28 rbi. Behind the scenes, Welington was working hard on refining his skills as a catcher. Quickly though he showed that he had a sharp learning curve.
During the 2005 offseason, Castillo was in Arizona working on his blocking skills and game calling. There he impressed the organization with his overall growth that he joined the Short season A-ball Boise Hawks in June. He didnít last long as he was more of a role filler as the Cubs had Mercedes and 2006 draftee Canepa behind the plate. So the organization sent Welington to Arizona Rookie ball with all of the other high school and young college draftee signings of 2006. In limited action, he was still lagging with the stick but was very advanced for his age as a defensive catcher.
Welington Castillo is the Cubs best all-around catching prospect, but he suffered a season-ending knee injury that required surgery in the AZ Instructional League last October and there was some question at the time about whether he would be ready for minor league camp in March, much less big league camp in mid-February. Apparently his rehab has gone well, which is good news.
In 2007, we finally got to see the Castillo that the Cubs thought he could be; a catcher with a great arm and plus power. With the Chiefs, Welington was about league average with his bat for the first four months, .252/.300/.374/.674 in 246 at bats. That is until August came along and Welington shifted the car into nitro, where in 63 at bats he hit .313/.394/.587/.981. His strong finish of the Low A season causes some distention within the scouting world, many of the old school scouts attribute it to Welington finally picking up his game while the new world saber scouts just saw it as a mirage.
In this case, it looks like the old school scouts were right. As this season began, the 21 year old Castillo started the year off with High A Daytona. Where in 33 games, he hit .273/.299/.339/.638, not exactly eye-popping stats but strong enough to garner him a selection to the Florida State Leagueís All-Star roster even after his promotion to AA in late May. The skills were there in High A, he was just hitting it in the wrong spots, thus the Cubs promoted Welington to AA Tennessee. In the process, Welington was selected to the Worldís Future Team roster at the All-Star break. Since heís been in AA, heís done nothing but give the Cubs high hopes for their future at the catcherís position. In 57 games, he hit .298/.362/.414/.777, much of that power display came in his first 18 games where he hit four homers and five doubles. Heís hit a slump now though and has been pressing thus far in August, swinging at pitches well out of the zone. Still all in all, at just 21 years old and in AA, heís given the Cubs a new weapon in the offseason and some backup for likely Rookie of the Year, Geovany Soto. With Koyie Hill getting called up to the big leagues to give Soto and Blanco a rest down the stretch, Castillo even got added to the Iowa roster where in one game he was 1 for 5, and in the playoffs backed up superb defensive catcher Anthony Richie where he was 0-2.
Hitting: With his quick wrists, he turns nicely on inside pitches making flush contact with the barrel. His swing is a little long right now while his stroke is made for line drives and contact. There is still the tendency to pull the ball, but heís shown great advances in using the whole field. Welington sits back on fastballs, even high octane ones, and just crushes them. Offspeed pitches though he often gets confused with plus sliders and curveballs from righties. While the lefties, he just absolutely pounds on, even the one ís with advanced secondary pitches. Some look at Wellyís strikeout numbers and people think that heís a free swinger but his plate discipline is very advanced for his age. Castillo works counts well, hitting deep into them and often making the pitcher show him everything they have; itís just alot of those counts end up in a strikeout now. With further work and experience those will turn into basehits and walks down the road.
Power: Castillo has what many consider emerging power from his natural stroke and swing. As of now much of that power is coming in the form of doubles, thatís due to his unfinished physical growth and batting against competition that is much more seasoned then he is. Welington only hit 4 homeruns in 329 AB this season, one that saw him climb from Daytona to appearing in Iowa. While last season, he hit 11 HR in 314 AB for Peoria. With his plus bat skills and projected size, scouts envision Castillo as a 20 HR hitter with a .450+ SLG during his peak.
Speed: On the bases, heís not a clogger but heís not going to win ballgames with his legs. Of course base speed is not his biggest asset, he gets good jumps and reads but will rarely ever get the green light. On the paths, the best thing going for him is that he can actually advance two bases on an outfield single, whether itís 1st to 3rd or 2nd to home. Behind the plate, Castillo shows fancy footwork that aides his throwing game along with the ability to move really well laterally that helps his blocking chances.
Defense: Behind the plate, Castillo threw out 12 of 40 opposing runners (30 percent) with Daytona and gunned down 15 of 35 runners (43 percent) with Tennessee. Heís got amazing footwork behind the plate along with a strong, quick and accurate arm. The instincts are all there to be an elite defensive catcher, he just needs to continually work on his game calling skills and blocking techniques as too many balls took too many bad hops in getting by him. Talking to one scout, he reported negatively in Castilloís game in that he often caught fastball based starters or when catching pitchers with advanced secondary it was less utilized.
MLB Comparison: Geovany Soto/Ivan Rodriguez
Castillo has a very strong arm like the duo heís compared to, as well as a strong bat. Wellingtonís bat had him promoted from High A to AA this season with a AAA playoff appearance, while building his defensive skills. He showed off an accurate arm but is still lacking in his abilities to call games and block offspeed pitches, but thatís to be expected at his young age and experience. As many scouts have said, Castillo has emerging power that will exponentially grow while the 21 year old develops just like Soto and Rodriguez. Soto didnít show any real power till his 2007 season at age 24 while surprisingly continuing to reproduce it in the 2008 season. Pudge didnít show a full seasonís worth of power till he was 24 years old as well but had flashed some of it in strike shortened year of 2004 at age 22, but scouts always said his natural stroke would lead to solid power numbers. Welington has many of the same attributes as a young Pudge, as does Soto, if either of the Cub youngsters can keep it up the long term revolving door at catcher should be closed. Of the two, Welington compares more favorably to Rodriguez as both were quick risers that caught scouts eye early. While Soto was a pegged MLB backup due to his great defensive skills and less than lackluster bat. Now Soto is looking at being the first Cubs Rookie of the Year since 1989 with Jerome Walton due to one of the best NL rookie seasonís as catcher.
Bobís Take: Welington is excelling through the system at a meteoric speed, itís just a shame the position he covets is held by a prospect with many of his same attributes in Geovany Soto. At Castilloís pace, heís looking at a MLB debut in 2009, most likely as a September callup unless Soto or Blanco are injured beforehand. Castillo will likely start the 2009 season in AAA Iowa, where he made an appearance in the 2008 playoffs. There arenít too many Cubs catchers ahead of him in the minors system, none in prospect value and only Koyie Hill in terms of depth and he could be given the boot off the 40 man roster this offseason. Currently, the Cubs 40 man roster consists of 4 catchers in Blanco, Soto, Hill and Fox although this offseason there will be major adjusting.
Without question, Soto will be the main starter but he should see some more days off then this past season where he started 141 games behind the plate. After that, itís a crapshoot, as Blanco has an expensive option to pick up (3M) yet heís been such an influence to Soto and Castillo that heís worth holding onto. Elsewise the club holds a .3M buyout on Blanco and could look to a cheaper veteran free agent or look to Hill or Castillo as filling in the backup role. Personally, I see Castillo starting the year off in Iowa, and logging some serious minutes behind the plate. If he stalls or struggles itís no big deal as his age gives him plenty of time to adjust and advance his game in the league since heís shown advanced skills at AA. There is the option, that the organization will start him in AA due to his age and try to bring him along slowly so that he doesnít suffer a huge lag. Still, I donít expect to see Castillo up in the MLB this season unless heís insanely hot with the stick AND either Soto or Blanco/other backup are injured OR that in September the catching tandem is overworked and Castillo is needed as a buffer. Currently, Castillo is not on the 4o man roster and doesnít need to be until after the 2009 season yet could garner an addition in September. Welington is already in Dominican playing for the dominant Tigres del Licey to continue to get work in on the side. The team is highly competitive which might lead to Castillo playing little and getting side work.