Backup catcher battle going down to wire

March, 19, 2012
3/19/12
6:50
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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[+] EnlargeWelington Castillo
Dennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireWelington Castillo, who spent time in the majors last season, is in a battle for the Cubs' backup catcher job.
PEORIA, Ariz. -- For whoever wins the Chicago Cubs backup catcher job, it will be like renting a room over a garage in the best neighborhood in the area.

Both Steve Clevenger and Welington Castillo said that catching one day a week in the major leagues would be a dream over catching seven games a week in Triple-A.

So who is the leading candidate to play understudy to Geovany Soto? It seems like whoever plays that day moves back into the lead.

On Monday they both got a chance as Castillo started against the Seattle Mariners and Clevenger entered in the sixth inning. Castillo had two hits, including a double off the wall and a run scored. Clevenger went 1-for-2 with an RBI double.

Manager Dale Sveum said over the weekend that making the decision will be like splitting hairs.

“At the backup catcher spot, when you are dealing with our backup catchers, and even the other guys in camp, I don’t think I have ever been around so many good catchers in the game,” Sveum said. “Obviously we get to choose from two guys who can play every day in the big leagues.”


There’s no letting up now in one of the hottest battles being conducted in Cubs camp. Castillo was asked if he was pleased with his play thus far.

“Not really, because I know I can hit a little more,” said Castillo, who has 11 games of big-league experience, four in May of last season when Soto was out with a groin injury.

Clevenger, who was a September call-up last season and appeared in two games, could double the four big-league at-bats he had last season if and when he makes his next start.

“Whenever you have competition you want to do the best and show them what you have,” he said. “The guys that are battling, me and Weli, we’re good friends and the best guy’s going to get the job. We’ll just go from there.”

Clevenger, a converted infielder, says that catching is now second nature to him. It’s another part of his game that has led him to the cusp of his first Opening Day roster spot.

“I think it’s my growth as a hitter that’s gotten to me at this point,” he said. “There is something you can learn every day. I still have to try to pick people’s brains as much as I can. I can get better. Everybody can get better every day. I’m just going to try and go out there and do what I can control and try to get better.”

On offense, anyway, the battle has been even with Clevenger possibly showing a slight advantage. Castillo entered play Monday with a .318 batting average, a home run and two RBIs in 22 at-bats. Clevenger had a .333 batting average with two home runs and three RBIs in 21 at-bats.

There are still 16 Cactus League games remaining and this figures to be one of the few battles that could go down to the last day of camp.

“I don’t try to do much, just do my best,” Castillo said. “At the end of the day they are the ones that make that decision. I don’t control that. All I control is just playing well and doing my best when they give me the opportunity.”

Doug Padilla

Chicago White Sox beat reporter
Doug joined ESPN Chicago in July 2010 and covers the Chicago White Sox for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN Radio 1000.

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