Castillo Earning High Praise

His name is Welington Castillo, and if you believe the Chicago Cubs, he is a Yadier Molina clone. Maybe even the next Pudge Rodriguez.

It isn't often that a major league club compares one of its young catching prospects to established big leaguers like Molina and Rodriguez – two of the top defensive catchers in the game. Welington Castillo just happens to be a rare exception.

Playing in 98 games a season ago at Class-A Peoria in his first stint of full-season ball, Castillo gunned down 37 percent (32/86) of opposing runners – sixth overall in the Midwest League, less than one point behind Rangers prospect Manny Pina.

Those are the kinds of defensive numbers the Cubs admire most about Castillo; not the 15 errors or the 13 passed balls he was charged last year.

"He can flat out catch and throw," Cubs Vice President of Player Personnel Oneri Fleita said of Castillo, who turned 21 this past Thursday. "He's Yadier Molina all over. He stops the running game. Flat out stops it."

Castillo hasn't slacked off much in that regard this season. Assigned to Class High-A Daytona for the start of 2008, he has gunned down five of 16 opposing runners (31 percent) thus far.

Although he works with Castillo primarily with the bat, Cubs Minor League Hitting Coordinator Dave Keller observed that Castillo (who is listed at 6-foot, 200 pounds) is likely the best defensive skilled catcher in the Cubs' farm system.

"This guy is Pudge Rodriguez," said Keller.

No wonder Fleita calls Castillo a "hard to find player." It is a lofty comparison (to Rodriguez) to say the least, but Keller finds some justification in it.

"He can drive the ball to the gap in left- and right-center," said Keller. "He's going to hit and I think he's going to hit with some pretty good consistency."

Through his first 11 games with Daytona, the right-handed batting Castillo hit .325 with three doubles and four RBIs. He missed a week of playing time with a bruised thumb and has since collected eight hits in 37 at-bats.

Castillo has shown steady improvement at the plate since joining the professional ranks. A season ago, he batted .271 with 11 home runs in 317 at-bats with Peoria.

In 230-plus previous at-bats, all in rookie ball, he went yard only once.

"For a young kid in the Midwest League, he more than held his own with the bat," said Fleita. "He's got a little pop. He knows how to hit and how to handle the bat, and he's not afraid to hit with two strikes. For a catcher, that says a lot."

Dave Bialas, the Cubs' Minor League Field Coordinator, believes that Castillo has a high ceiling but agrees that the biggest strength of his game is his defense.

"He's a good prospect without a doubt," said Bialas. "He's one of our top guys and has just an outstanding arm. He can really throw. But I think he's going to hit, too."

Not since Castillo's manager in Daytona, Jody Davis, back in the 80's have the Cubs had much luck in sticking with a catcher long-term at the major league level.

They hope the development and recent hot play of Geovany Soto will change all of that, but if not Castillo might prove to be a nice option to fall back on one day.

"He's going to play in the big leagues and I think he's going to be an every day catcher," Bialas said of Castillo.

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