With Chicago Cubs spring training set to begin Feb. 14 in Mesa, Ariz., we're taking an early look around the diamond.
Major additions since Opening Day 2013: George Kottaras
Holdovers: Welington Castillo
Analysis: Only one player who saw time at catcher returns for 2014, but that’s the entrenched starter, Castillo. He’s the only one that matters right now as the Cubs try to work him into being their franchise man behind the plate. Castillo made huge strides on defense in 2013 and showed improvement on offense in the second half. For example, after walking sparingly in the first half Castillo’s plate discipline improved considerably after the All-Star break. His on-base percentage went from .324 to .349 at season’s end. One home run in the first half ballooned to seven for the year despite playing on a bum knee which ended his season prematurely.
Best of all, Castillo was a monster behind the plate, ranking at the top of the league in defensive WAR (2.8). His seven throwing errors, however, were too many for a player with a plus arm. Kottaras won’t replace Navarro at the plate but should be better behind it. Catching is the thinnest position in the Cubs system aand they’ve invited three non-roster invitees to camp, including John Baker and Eli Whiteside. Double-A catcher Rafael Lopez could be a help at the major league level if his improvement continues.
Outlook: If Castillo is healthy expect him to play in more than the career high of 113 games he achieved last season. He’s a rock behind the plate and is only getting better defensively. The question is whether he can take his offense to another level. More pop to go along with his rising on-base percentage of the second half last season would be ideal. The Cubs have a good coach for Castillo in Mike Borzello, who was one of the few survivors from the previous coaching staff. He’s key to Castillo’s development.
Kottaras simply hasn’t shown the offense the Cubs could use off the bench, but overall the combination should be better defensively. It’s doubtful the twosome of catchers will rival the job done by Castillo and the departed Navarro last season, but the only thing that really matters for the future of the Cubs is the steps Castillo takes. He should be coming into his own in 2014.