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Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Cubs spring training preview: Catchers

By Jesse Rogers

Castillo
Welington Castillo batted .265 in 170 at-bats with the Cubs last season.
Jesse Rogers previews the Cubs by position in the days leading up to pitchers and catchers reporting for spring training on Sunday.

There was a hole behind the plate for the Chicago Cubs last season after Geovany Soto was traded to the Texas Rangers. Steve Clevenger and Welington Castillo saw time with Castillo emerging as a player deserving of further consideration. Here's a breakdown of what 2013 holds for the Cubs behind the plate:

Welington Castillo: The 25-year-old Castillo, who batted .265 with five home runs and 22 RBIs in 170 at-bats, will get a chance to prove he belongs in the majors as an everyday starter. He showed improvement late last season, batting .294 in August and September, and he had a .390 on-base percentage over the final full month of the season. That matched his percentage in the minors last year as Castillo's plate discipline showed the kind of improvement the Cubs must like. Castillo's issues will be calling a game, and he improved late in the year in that area as well. He has an above-average arm to go along with some pop in his bat. He gets first dibs on the starting position as long as he handles the pitching staff effectively.

Dioner Navarro: At 28, Navarro becomes the elder statesman for the Cubs behind the plate. He might mentor and help Castillo, but he'll also look to take his job. He appeared in just 24 games for the Cincinnati Reds last season, and he starts 2013 with his fourth team in four years. An All-Star with the Rays in 2008, Navarro's experience might come in handy as Castillo is still learning the ropes. Many within the Cubs have raved about Navarro's professionalism, including Matt Garza, who played with him in Tampa Bay. His switch-hitting ability can only be a plus coming off the bench.

Steve Clevenger: He is the odd man out right now but played in 69 games and had 199 at-bats for the Cubs last season. He'll get a recall if one of the top two catchers gets injured. But in the meantime Clevenger needs to improve at the plate. His .201 batting average, .260 on-base percentage and .276 slugging percentage isn't going to cut it at the big-league level.

OUTLOOK: It's hard to judge Castillo's upside. He showed flashes at the plate but to consider him a core player right now is a reach. Without a top prospect coming up at catcher, Castillo has a chance to keep the job for as long as he can. Catching may not start the season as a major strength for the Cubs, but Castillo could make it one before season's end. That would be quite the story with this being Castillo's eighth pro season with the organization after signing as a non-drafted free-agent. If Castillo doesn't pan out, the Cubs will turn to Navarro to keep the pitching staff together, and they'll take what they can at the plate.

ESPNChicago.com's Bruce Levine contributed to this report.