Cubs

Welington Castillo believes Willson Contreras can handle the pressure of being everyday catcher with Cubs

Welington Castillo believes Willson Contreras can handle the pressure of being everyday catcher with Cubs

Welington Castillo knows what it takes to develop into a big-league catcher coming up through the Cubs system.

It wasn't that long ago that Castillo was seen as the catcher of the future for the Cubs, but now that title belongs to Willson Contreras in Triple-A Iowa. 

Meanwhile, Castillo has found a new home with the Arizona Diamondbacks, where he has flourished into one of the top offensive catchers in the league, hitting 24 homers with a .796 OPS in 122 games with the D-Backs.

Before the Cubs traded him away last May, Castillo got a chance to see what Contreras was all about and thinks the game's top catching prospect has what it takes to survive — and thrive — in Chicago.

"He was always good," Castillo said. "He's getting better as he matures and gets older and learns how to control the game a little bit more.

"He used to not call a good game when he wasn't feeling great, but now he's a little more mature. I think he's really close to being in Chicago. He can help them sometime soon."

Right now, Contreras is the top offensive performer in the Cubs system, regardless of position or level. 

He entered play Sunday leading all Cubs minor-leaguers in average (.335), homers (9), OPS (1.013) and tied for the lead with 39 RBI.

This coming after Contreras won the Southern League (Double-A) batting title with a .333 average last season.

"Willson certainly is off to a wonderful start in his Triple-A career," said Jason McLeod, Cubs senior vice president of player development and scouting. "He's continued to mature over the last three years. Specifically, these last 12 months have been really stellar for him."

Despite his success offensively, the Cubs still feel Contreras needs more time to develop as a catcher.

"He's still in that finishing phase in the minor leagues," McLeod said. "It's a totally different ballgame when you get up here and now you're trying to game plan for an opposing team. You've got this pitching staff that's here, with very high expectations of the guys behind the plate.

"Willson's aware of that. We're doing everything we can to prepare him down there for that time. But right now, a lot depends on what the news would be up here. We couldn't be happier with him."

The big-league Cubs are currently carrying three catchers on their 25-man roster, including veterans Miguel Montero and David Ross, who are well-respected by the organization's pitchers and coaches for their defense behind home plate and the way they call games.

Third-string catcher Tim Federowicz also has drawn rave reviews for his work behind the dish, so the Cubs have the luxury of giving Contreras plenty of time to develop in the minors.

From what he's seen, Castillo believes Contreras will have no trouble handling a veteran pitching staff in Chicago that currently leads the league in ERA by a wide margin.

"He's been playing a little winter ball back in Venezuela, so that will help him a lot, just learning how to handle a pitching staff," Castillo said. "That pitching staff, they know what they're doing, so they're gonna help him a lot, too."

The Cubs are in a different spot with prospects now than they were just last spring when Kris Bryant and Addison Russell came up. Now, a guy making his big-league debut doesn't have to be the focal point on a team with the best record in baseball and so many big names/personalities to deflect attention.

Castillo admits it's "a little tough" to handle the expectations of a fanbase that hasn't seen a championship in more than a century, but still thinks Contreras will have success.

"He's mature enough to not even think about it and just go out there and compete and have fun," Castillo said. "...Joe Maddon and [bench coach] Davey Martinez do a really, really good job with the young guys.

"They're really open and give the confidence to the players to go and have fun."

Who knew? Statistical oddities from Ian Happ, Daniel Palka and others from the past week in Chicago baseball

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USA TODAY

Who knew? Statistical oddities from Ian Happ, Daniel Palka and others from the past week in Chicago baseball

This past weekend Ian Happ rocked Cincinnati harder than anyone since Dr. Johnny Fever, and the White Sox from last Sunday to yesterday posted a winning 4-3 record.

It’s Monday, so let’s examine the box scores from the previous seven days for another edition of Who Knew?

Leading off

Tim Anderson started this season 5-for-5 in plate appearances leading off games: double, single, single, home run, single.

He finally made a leadoff out on Sunday.

Déjà Vu

On Monday, Ozzie Albies hit a leadoff home run off José Quintana for the second time this season. 

It was rare enough that a batter had multiple leadoff home runs against the Cubs in the same season. The last batter to do that was Hall of Famer Craig Biggio in 2006 (one each off Greg Maddux and then-starter Carlos Marmol).

But multiple leadoff home runs against the same Cubs PITCHER in the same season? Quite rare. At first, I believed it to be the first such occurrence since at least the 1880’s, but there was one other time since that I initially missed.

Prior to Ozzie Albies (off Quintana), the last batter with multiple leadoff home runs against a single Cubs pitcher in a season was Heinie Sand of the Phillies, who led off two games in 1924 with home runs off Cubs right-hander Vic Keen.

Before Sand, you DO have to go back to the 1880s. Hall of Famer Buck Ewing hit two leadoff home runs off Fred Goldsmith (who claimed to have invented the curveball, but likely did not) in 1883.  It may have happened in 1884, but there are some missing details in the home run database and I can’t be certain. But it’s rare!

Saves without Strikeouts

Cubs closer Brandon Morrow has 10 saves this season. In half of them (including his latest save Tuesday), he did not record a strikeout.

Only Wade Davis, who closed out games for the Cubs last season, has more strikeout-less saves in 2018 (no punchouts in seven of his 16 saves). Davis, for the record, saved 32 games for the Cubs last season, but in only nine of those 32 did he not strike anyone out.

Meanwhile, up in the Pacific Northwest, Edwin Díaz of the Mariners has 15 saves this season and has at least one strikeout in all 15.

National Treasure

Leury García took Jameson Taillon deep Wednesday in Pittsburgh, giving him 13 career home runs, all in a White Sox uniform.

The thing is, seven of those 13 home runs have been against National League teams!  Check out his career splits with the Sox:

Versus NL 26 games .325/.373/.636 7 home runs
Versus AL 225 games .227/.267/.306 6 home runs

Uncanny!

Hit Bonanza

The Cubs started Friday’s game in Cincinnati like this:

Zobrist single, Bryant double, Rizzo single, Contreras single, Russell single.

It was the first time the Cubs started a game with five straight hits since Sept. 8, 2009 when they had EIGHT straight hits to start a game. They started that game as follows:

Ryan Theriot single, Milton Bradley single, Derrek Lee single, Aramis Ramírez single, Jeff Baker single, Geovany Soto double, Kosuke Fukudome double, Bobby Scales single. A Ryan Dempster sacrifice bunt snapped the streak, giving up an out in the first inning with a 6-0 lead.

Palka Dots

Sox slugger Daniel Palka has made an impact so far in the Majors. Half of his 16 hits have been of the extra-base variety.

In only 18 career games, Palka already has multiple doubles (three), triples (two) and home runs (three). Through 18 career games, Frank Thomas could check off two of those three boxes, although maybe not the two that you think.

The Big Hurt had six doubles and THREE TRIPLES in his initial dozen-and-a-half career games, but no home runs! The last White Sox player who had at least two of each type of extra-base hit through his first 18 career Major League contests?

Go back to Greg Walker, who collected two doubles, two triples and three home runs in an 11-game taste of the Majors in 1982 and his first seven games of 1983.

Ace of On-Base

Ian Happ returned to his old stomping grounds (kind of… he attended the University of Cincinnati) over the weekend and had quite a four-game series:

Friday 1 hit 3 walks
Saturday (Game 1) 3 hits 1 walk
Saturday (Game 2) 1 hit 2 walks
Sunday 0 hits 3 walks

Now granted, there aren’t as many four-game series as there used to be, but Happ was the first Cub to reach base at least three times in each game of a four-game series since Mark Grace during a four-game set versus Mets at Wrigley Field Aug. 9-12, 1991.Five hits and nine walks; Happ reached base at least three times in all four games!

Happ’s season slashline was boosted from .233/.301/.417 to .254/.361/.509 in those four games alone. His nine walks (five intentional, four unintentional) in the series is better than Javier Báez (six walks: four intentional, two unintentional) has for the entire season.

Happ on Friday became the first Cub to be walked three times intentionally in a game since Andre Dawson (FIVE times) on May 22, 1990. Back then, it actually required pitches to intentionally walk a batter.

Happ was also the first Cub to homer in both ends of a doubleheader since Chris Coghlan July 8, 2014 – also at Cincinnati. But Happ was able to do something Coghlan didn’t: in both games, Happ hit the lone Cubs home run! That’s something no Cub had done since Alfonso Soriano hit the lone Cubs' home run in each game of a doubleheader in St. Louis on Sept. 15, 2007.

Extra Extra!

José Abreu continues to produce. He doubled and homered Saturday night, making him the 23rd player in White Sox history to reach 300 career extra-base hits. He reached 300 extra-base hits in only 655 career Major League games, a number surpassed in White Sox history only by Frank Thomas (626). 

It was also Abreu’s 222nd career multi-hit game in a White Sox uniform, matching our “Beltin’” Bill Melton.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Reviewing a positive road trip for Jose Quintana, Yu Darvish and Ian Happ

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Reviewing a positive road trip for Jose Quintana, Yu Darvish and Ian Happ

Luke Stuckmeyer, David Kaplan, and Doug Glanville break down a solid 4-2 road trip for the Cubs. Plus, who would you rather have long-term: Bryce Harper or Manny Machado?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below. Apple Podcasts listeners can subscribe at the show page.