Coming off of a season in which their catching corps produced the fourth-most wins according to FanGraphs, the Cubs are returning Welington Castillo and hoping he can take over the full-time catching role for good. They also traded for George Kottaras, who should be a capable backup. This has the potential to be a very strong position for the Cubs, but there’s also plenty of reasons to be worried.
Best Case Scenario – Castillo develops quickly, Kottaras a Capable Backup
If it feels like you’ve been hearing about Welington Castillo, future at catcher, for a very long time, it’s because you have. He first debuted with the Cubs all the way back in 2010, and has been starting in some capacity in the bigs since 2012. Often with players like him, the intrigue over their upside fades as they lose prospect status and newer, shinier prospects join the system. A post-hype sleeper, if you’ll allow me to borrow a term from fantasy baseball.
In a perfect world, the 2014 Cubs see Welington Castillo really start to develop into the player scouts thought he’d be years ago. In 2011, and before his call-up in 2012, Kevin Goldstein graded his power as “plus” and said he would be capable of hitting 15-20 homers. Castillo hasn’t quite lived up to those power projections yet, but the second half of 2013 (in which he posted an isolated power of .187) provided a glimpse at the power he could provide.
There is simply so much to like about Castillo at the plate. He should post a walk rate at or above 8% with a 22-24% K%, he hits lefties and righties equally well, and he should provide good power. Many have pointed out that his BABIP was quite high, but various BABIP estimators suggest that Castillo’s batted ball profile is amenable to an elevated BABIP, and his ability to spray the ball around the field should inspire a little extra confidence in such an idea. My personal best-case scenario for Castillo, given his batted ball profile, looks something like: .275/.355/.440 (an OPS that would have ranked 9th amongst catchers in 2013). Over 500 PAs, that’s about four and a half wins. (Also, reminder that I’ll provide calculations upon request.)
If that seems lofty, well…it is, but I don’t think a season like that out of Castillo is really all that unlikely at some point in the future. And if the Cubs can get production in that range from Castillo, and assuming Kottaras provides his usual half-win of value, the Cubs could get 5 wins out of the catcher position. Unfortunately for the Cubs, that would improve upon 2013 by….0.0 wins, though having the bulk of the production coming from one player is always a good thing. -Tommy
Worst Case Scenario – Castillo’s BABIP plummets
Since 2012, I have been very high on Welington Castillo. From 2012 to ’13 he drastically improved his entire repertoire behind the dish, and was a pretty solid hitter this past year, hitting for a good average and getting on base at a good clip. Everyone is hoping that he will improve his power numbers and get that OPS close to .800.
The worst-case scenario for Castillo would be a collapse in his BABIP (.347 in 2013), leading to a collapse in his numbers across the board. That .347 mark is quite high and could easily fall. Steamer projects a drop in BABIP of over 40 points. I agree that the BABIP will drop a bit, but I do think he slugs better than the steamer-projected .414, and those extra homers will off-set the BABIP-related hit loss. Overall, a worst case for him might look something like .250/.320/.380. Castillo has good hand-eye coordination and should always hit for a decent average, so any seasons at .250 or worse may be attributable.
If Castillo has an abysmal season that would really hurt the Cubs now and for the long run. This would really set the Cubs back as they are barren in MLB ready catching prospects as well as most of the system. The hope here is, at the very least Welington has a similar season to what he had in 2013. – Kenny
What Do We Think Happens?
Those of you that follow us on Twitter know that we are both deliriously high on Welington Castillo. For example I (Tommy) made a small error in a calculation and projected Castillo for a 5 win season, and didn’t immediately go to check the math. I think both of us think Castillo ends up closer to his best-case scenario than his worst-case, and the Cubs continue to boast top-10 production from catcher. Gun to my head, what do I see out of his season? Something around .260/.340/.420, with maybe a bit more power.
How do you see the Cubs’ catchers producing this year? Let us know in the comments below!