Look backwards at the catchers this year, and you’ll notice that two of the top catchers will lose their catching eligibility this offseason. So move everyone up two slots before you even begin to project next year’s crop. Down in the teens, you’ll find a couple that are approaching 40, and a couple that struggle to hit at the Mendoza Line in a good year. And then, at number twenty despite only 428 plate appearances, you’ll find the Cubs’ catcher: Welington Castillo. He’s on the fringe, but he’s capable of moving up and the table is set for him.
First, a quick look at this playing time. This year, despite being the Catcher of the Future for the Cubbies, Castillo didn’t quite take over all of the playing time that he could have. He ranked 18th in plate appearances mostly because free agent signee Dioner Navarro was way better that he was supposed to be. The 29-year-old set career highs in batting average and power stats and was above league average with the stick for the second time in his nine-year career. The guess here is that he either returns to the punchless wonder that he’s always been, or he’s priced himself out of a return to Chicago. Either way, the team seems ready to turn to Castillo. Navarro actually got four more plate appearances (and three more starts) than Castillo in September, but that was due to a knee injury for Castillo.
Either way, Castillo is going on 27 instead of 30, and there’s more to like in his potential. While Navarro’s power has taken this long to emerge, the youngster has made good on the promise of league average power in his first two half-seasons. His .137 career ISO looks like it could be a floor if you stare too long at his Triple-A numbers — he ISO’ed over .200 in two of his attempts at the level — but don’t get too lost in the faithcasting. Iowa is in the PCL. On the other hand, Iowa is not one of the crazier parks in the league, and his home ISO was still over .200 at Triple-A in 2011 and 2012 combined. This chart — look at the general upwards trend — looks like a man that could hit for more power next year:
Castillo is obviously not without his flaws. His lifetime walk rate is a tick below average and his lifetime strikeout rate is a tick above average. Despite those facts, his batting average has been above the league norm, mostly thanks to a career .346 batting average on balls in play. That’s a little crazy for a catcher, since catchers average a lower BABIP than league average most years (.286 this year, and all non-pitchers had a .299 BABIP). But Castillo has better-than-average rates in the key categories for BABIP: infield flies, ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio, and line drives. He’s got everything but speed. If you plug last year’s batted ball rates into our xBABIP calculator, you get .318.
Putting all of this together, Steamer projects Castillo to improve his power, walk and strikeout rates while regressing back to .309 in the BABIP category. That produces a deep-league usable .256/.327/.412 line and 13 homers. If he took more playing time away from the backup catcher — say on the level of of a Jason Castro (491 PA) — you could up that to 15 home runs. If you regress his BABIP to his xBABIP instead of the league BABIP, you’d get a .321 BABIP next season instead of a .309 number. That could mean an extra four or five hits next year, and maybe a .260 batting average.
A .260 batting average and 15 home runs still puts you outside the top 12, but not by much. And if the Cubs don’t re-sign Dioner Navarro, there’s a little window for more. Keep Welington Castillo on your mixed-league draft watch list, even if you don’t put him on your want list.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.