Jesse Rogers recaps the Cubs by position and looks at what changes might be in store for 2014.
It’s simple. Catching turned into a strength for the Chicago Cubs in 2013. Welington Castillo took major steps, while backup Dioner Navarro revitalized his career. The Cubs brought in Navarro as a mentor to push Castillo and it could not have worked out better. Navarro had a career year on offense while Castillo excelled defensively and improved at the plate over the course of the second half.
The good: Castillo became one of the best in the game at blocking pitches in the dirt. Scouts say he’s right behind the Cardinals' Yadier Molina in this category, and Castillo's defensive WAR (2.8) ranks first in all of baseball. At the plate his walk percentage increased significantly in the second half to the point where he finished the season with a more-than-respectable .349 OBP. Navarro was simply deadly at the plate. He proved himself from both sides with power off the bench as well as in spot starts. He set a career highs in batting average, on-base percentage and home runs despite his backup status.
The bad: Though Castillo has a strong arm, base runners weren’t scared to run on him, and his 29.5 caught-stealing percentage is middle of the pack, though a lot of that has to do with Cubs pitching. The team could use a little more power from Castillo, who hit just eight home runs on the season. Navarro wasn’t nearly as dynamic defensively and it hurt the Cubs a few times with some errant throws or missed balls in the dirt.
Who’s next?: The Cubs have very little in their system at the catching position, in fact they’re going to try to convert a few players from other positions this fall and winter. It means Castillo is entrenched as the starter, but Navarro is no sure thing to return. If he does leave, expect the Cubs to simply fill his spot with another veteran free agent. There are a host of catchers who will be available.
2014 outlook: Castillo took some steps on defense, now he needs to take another one on offense and build off his second half. His walk total will be critical as he showed pop when he swung at good pitches. With catching thin around the league, he should be in line for a longer-term contract. As for his backup in 2014, Navarro may have played himself into a bigger deal elsewhere. If he stays he’ll be one of the higher-paid backups in the league. But his value to Castillo and the Cubs might be worth it.