Considering they have a roster full of talented, yet unproved players, the Chicago Cubs have many guys who could burst on to the scene with a breakout season in 2014. Junior Lake, Justin Grimm and Ryan Sweeney are three players of many that I think could breakout in a big way this year. While there are many options to choose from, Welington Castillo is the Cub who I am most confident will have a breakout season.
After tremendous progress behind the plate last year, Castillo is already one of the premier defensive catchers in the league. He saved 19 defensive runs which was the best in baseball at the position, and his defensive WAR was also the highest among MLB catchers at 2.8. His WAR is particularly impressive because he split time with Dioner Navarro, and only played in 111 games. Yadier Molina won the NL Gold Glove for catchers last season, the 6th time in a row he won the award. A case certainly could have been made for Castillo. If voters used advanced metrics more than traditional stats (like they probably should), Castillo would have won the award.
Castillo’s progression behind the plate the past few years has been incredible. He has always had a very strong throwing arm, but he struggled to call a game and never really had a feel for the position in the minors. Cubs’ catching coach Mike Borzello deserves a ton of credit for working with Castillo and making him the defensive catcher that he has become.
Offensively, Castillo has shown potential, but he must improve his production if expects to become an elite level catcher. His career MLB slash line of .269/.341/.407 in 583 at bats leaves plenty to be desired. That being said, Castillo really came on strong late last season hitting .288/.388/.475 after the all star break. He showed impressive power in the minors, and I believe it is only a matter of time before he improves that aspect of his game in the big leagues.
With a successful 2014 season, Castillo can cement himself as one of the best overall catchers in the game, and a key core piece of the Cubs’ organization. With Navarro moving on in free agency, the Cubs will give Castillo ample playing time this season in order to see what they have in the young catcher. At only 26-years-old, the future is bright for Castillo, and if he can build on his success from last season, the Cubs could easily have the catcher position taken care of for many years to come.