Castillo Working to Become More Well-Rounded

A catcher's first job is to catch. Welington Castillo knows that. He also knows that if you can hit the ball, you're going to move up more quickly.

"I don't put any pressure on myself offensively, because my first job is to stay focused with the pitcher and call a good game," said Castillo, now in his sixth year in the Cubs' system after being signed in the Dominican Republic at age 17 in 2004.

Commanding a pitching staff is nothing new to Castillo, now 23. Castillo is the top catching prospect in the Cubs organization and in his first season at Triple-A Iowa this year, he has thrown out 40 percent of opposing baserunners.

A season ago at Double-A Tennessee, Castillo led the Southern League in caught stealing percentage, throwing out 44 percent of opposing runners.

With Castillo as a battery mate, the Iowa Cubs pitching staff ranks fourth in the Pacific Coast League with a 3.92 ERA through their first 82 games this season. That has helped vault Iowa to a 44-38 record in a tightly congested four-team division, where first and last place are separated by a mere two games entering play Tuesday.

Strong defense is also nothing new for Castillo, and Iowa manager Ryne Sandberg can attest to that. Sandberg has managed Castillo for the past three seasons at Tennessee and now at Iowa.

"The first and foremost thing is being part of the battery with the pitcher and helping the pitchers get through the ballgame," Sandberg said. "‘Welly' is young, has real good footwork on blocking, and his throwing is top notch, so he brings a lot to the table."

Having a veteran catcher on the staff in Iowa's Mark Johnson has helped with Castillo's tutelage behind the plate.

Johnson serves as a player-coach for the Iowa team and Castillo regularly seeks out the advice of the 34-year-old Johnson, who spent parts of seven seasons in the major leagues with the White Sox, Oakland, Milwaukee and St. Louis. He was a first-round draft pick by the Sox in 1994.

"Every night or the next day after a game, I go to him and say, ‘What did you see? What did I do wrong?' Castillo said. "And he tells me, ‘Why you always ask what you did wrong? Why you not ask me what you do good?' (The reason is) I know what I do right, but sometimes I don't know what I do wrong. That's part of the learning process."

Because Triple-A is an older level, Castillo has had to have the mindset of a veteran. That means treating opposing hitters as if they were in the big leagues, making adjustments to pitchers' tendencies and knowing the staff as a whole, he says.

"The first (rule), not just in this level but in every level is if you don't play defense, you're not going to be a catcher," Castillo said. "So you have to play defense. This is your first job. If you play defense at every level, you're going to play in the big leagues."

That doesn't mean Castillo is dismissing his bat. On the contrary, Castillo is just trying to get some confidence under his belt at the plate. He is batting .241 with a modest nine home runs and 21 extra-base hits through 45 games, and is third on the team with 41 RBI.

Castillo has never been a bad hitter. He batted .271 with 11 home runs in his first year of full-season ball at Class A Peoria at age 20, and .288 between High A Daytona and Tennessee in 2008. A season ago, he struggled with a .232 average in 95 games but still hit 11 home runs and drove in 39 runs.

Castillo says his work at the plate involves staying back on the ball and waiting for his pitch to come to him.

"Everyday I'm working with my hitting coach, because I'm jumping on the ball, and that's why I don't see it really good," Castillo said. "Last year I was swinging at the ball in the dirt, so I just have got to stay back and trust in my hands and in myself. I know I can hit, but sometimes I lose my focus and that's all on me."

Sandberg said Castillo's bat is coming along.

"He's capable of driving the baseball and hitting," he said. "I've had him for three years now, and he's working real well at that and he's adjusting to the league."

Castillo's friend and fellow catcher Geovany Soto was called up to the big leagues for three straights years as a September call-up between 2005 and '07 before earning the starting catcher's job in 2008. The two work together each year in spring training and have a good relationship.

Castillo would like to follow in Soto's footsteps, but says it won't be easy.

"Everybody wants his (Soto's) job because they want to make it to the big leagues," said Castillo. "I just have to do my job and he has to do his job, that's all. I'm trying to make it to the big leagues, maybe with the Cubs, maybe with another team. I just want to be there and do my job and try to be a good catcher my whole career."

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