Castillo wants to be among the best

Welington Castillo hopes his offense continues to catch up to his defense this season. AP Photo/Matt York

MESA, Ariz. -- The Chicago Cubs' Welington Castillo figures if he wants to be one of the best catchers in the game it can’t hurt to stare at some of the all-time greats every day he comes to work.

Castillo's locker is in the far corner of the new Cubs spring training facility and taped on the walls next to it are pictures of some of the best catchers who have ever played, including Gary Carter, Johnny Bench, Mickey Cochrane, Yogi Berra, Carlton Fisk and Roy Campanella.

“(Catching coach) Mike Borzello gives me a new picture every day,” Castillo explained Sunday morning. “I don’t know all of them but I’m learning.”

Learning is what Castillo has been doing since becoming the every day starter last season. His defense alone has the Cubs believing he’s their catcher for now and the future.

“I want to keep working hard because I think I can do more than what I did last year,” Castillo said. “I want to show everyone I belong here. I can be one of the great ones like these pictures I have up.”

Castillo began 2013 on fire at the plate but he quickly tailed off in the first half. His power was non-exsistent and he rarely walked -- though his defense never wavered. When the second half rolled around, his offense took off.

“I started to know the pitchers more,” Castillo said. “I had a better idea how they were pitching me. Facing the same pitchers 3-5 times I think is why my second half was better. I didn’t have to think as much.”

The numbers bear that out. His splits (avg, on-base, slugging, OPS) in the first half were .266/.324/.353/.677. Those numbers improved in the second half: .288/.388/.475/.863.

“The first half was a test for me because it was my first full season,” Castillo stated. “I felt a little like a (kid). I wasn’t able to do everything I wanted. I was hitting the wall. The second half was like ‘Hey, this is it. You belong here. You have to show them what you have.’”

Castillo is the perfect example of patience paying off. His work with Borzello has been well-documented as Borzello was one of the few holdovers from the last coaching staff, presumably because of the strides he made with Castillo.

“You have to let those guys that have a relationship, to continue,” manager Rick Renteria said of Borzello and Castillo. “Welington has a high skill set.”

Though Renteria agrees Castillo is still improving in calling a game and working with pitchers, many scouts already consider him the second best defensive catcher in the National League behind one of his idols, Yadier Molina. Defensive statistics prove that out as well.

Castillo and Molina have a casual and respectful relationship.

“I don’t know him that well but when we play he always says nice things to me,” Castillo said. “Every time I do something good, he says, ‘Good job, keep working.’”

Castillo says the only thing that stands in the way of taking his game to the next level is health. His season ended a few weeks prematurely last year due to a knee problem. He says he’s fine -- though the Cubs are taking it easy on him this spring. He just needs to stay that way.

“Keep working hard and play hungry,” he said. “Doesn’t matter if I have a bad game or a good one, going to go hard the next day.”