MESA, Ariz. Welington Castillo remembers seeing Alfonso Soriano working out at the Cubs academy and wondering what the 136 million man was doing there.
Soriano, Starlin Castro and Carlos Marmol have become billboards for the organization in the Dominican Republic, where the Ricketts family plans to construct a new facility and build a bigger pipeline to Wrigley Field.
Castillo will turn 25 in April and has already spent seven seasons in the system (and 11 games with the big-league club). The catcher with a rocket arm and bilingual skills took this message from Soriano years ago.
Thats where youre going to be, Castillo recalled Wednesday. You have to keep (working), so you dont just get to the big leagues. You stay in the big leagues. Thats why theyre always working hard.
I was growing up with that mentality. I want to get there and stay there. I dont want to just get there and come back (and forth).
Either way, thats where this could be heading. Geovany Sotos groin injury which has limited him for several days but is considered minor made you wonder about the future of the Cubs behind the plate.
Soto emerged as an All-Star and the National Leagues Rookie of the Year in 2008, when he hit .285 and accounted for 23 homers and 86 RBI. He has landed on the disabled list in each of the past three seasons.
Soto is also a popular, well-respected figure in the clubhouse, a homegrown catcher who can hit for power (34 homers combined the past two seasons), which is unique. He will make 4.3 million this year and wont become a free agent until after the 2013 season.
The backup job will be a battle between Castillo, Steve Clevenger and Jason Jaramillo. Clevenger made his big-league debut last year, while Jaramillo, a non-roster invitee, has spent parts of the past three seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Manager Dale Sveum said the deciding factor will be who handles the pitchers best.
Even after an injury-plagued 2011 season that shut him down in late August and robbed him of a September call-up, Castillo is regarded as the organizations sixth-best prospect by Baseball America.
Castillo still managed to hit 15 homers in 61 games at Triple-A Iowa. He rehabilitated his hamstring last fall at the Cubs complex in Arizona, then wasnt allowed to play winter ball at home.
The focus was on what could be a breakthrough season. Working out alongside Soriano and Castro at the academy, he focused on agility and lost around 20 pounds, getting down to 205, so he could feel more flexible and ease the stress on his body.
I dont have to show anything, Castillo said. I just have to play. I dont want to put any pressure on myself, like, Yo, I got to hit. I got to catch. I got to throw people out. I just got to go out there and play the way I (can), play hard all the time.