Welington Castillo is finally back with the White Sox.
The veteran catcher was supposed to be such a big part of this year’s squad, the most noteworthy addition the team made in the offseason, but instead he missed 80 games due to a suspension for using a banned substance. A guy brought in with the mission to work with the team’s young-and-getting-younger pitching staff missed months’ worth of time that was supposed to be spent helping pitchers like Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and others get through their first extended tastes of the major leagues.
Those guys’ 2018 stories have mostly been written at this point, and Castillo’s return comes with just a month remaining in the campaign. So what is there for him to offer?
Castillo, for one, believes there’s still plenty he can do.
“I’m going to continue to do my job and try to help as much as I can every time I have the opportunity behind the plate. And when I’m not playing, I’m going to try to help them on bench, talk to them with the little bit of experience that I have and try to make them feel like they belong here with the start that they’re having,” he said Sunday after being reinstated from the disabled list. “I know we won’t go anywhere (in the postseason), win the division, but we can take a lot of positive stuff in this last month, especially for those young guys. So I’m going to try to do my job and help them as much as I can to be ready for next year.”
It’ll be a smaller contribution than was expected, of course, but the nine years of big league catching experience should still be helpful to Giolito, Lopez, Carlos Rodon and Michael Kopech, the four young starters in the team’s rotation who figure to be key parts of the starting staff of the future. Veteran help is always welcome for developing players, and on a rebuilding roster such as this one, it can be difficult to come by with the youth that dominates the clubhouse. So it makes the veteran presence an important one. James Shields, who has been close by Giolito all season, requested that Kopech be put in a locker right next to his when the young flame-thrower was promoted. Castillo can be of similar help to the young guys during games.
Castillo, too, remains under contract for next season, with an option for the 2020 campaign, as well. Adding to the relationships with those pitchers over the final month of this season can be a big positive going into next season.
But, of course, being one of the few veterans on a team full of youngsters is no longer the headline of Castillo’s story during his tenure with the White Sox. Now it’s dominated by the suspension.
“It was hard. I couldn’t sleep and stuff like that,” Castillo said of his immediate reaction to the suspension. “At the same time, I know happened. I’m always going to say that, I know what happened. I know what kind of person I am, I know what kind of player I am. That’s in the past, it’s time to move forward. That’s all I can say.
“I have a really good relationship with my teammates. I just apologized to them. At the same time, I told them I know what kind of player I am, I know what kind of person I am. Everything that’s happened has happened. I’m not trying to make any excuses. They deserved an apology from me, so that’s what I did. At the end of the day, I know what kind of player I am and I know what kind of person I am. I know what happened, so there’s nothing to disagree or agree with that.”
Wondering how the suspension could affect his future with the team is a warranted query.
Manager Rick Renteria and the team in general have been happy with what Omar Narvaez and Kevan Smith have done in Castillo’s absence. Indeed, Narvaez has been far more productive as a hitter. In his 33 games prior to the suspension, Castillo slashed .267/.309/.466. Narvaez leads the team in batting average and on-base percentage and had a .284/.374/.432 slash line heading into Sunday’s game.
Plus, Zack Collins and Seby Zavala figure to be knocking on the door in the minor leagues by the time next season rolls around. Collins finished with a .382 on-base percentage at Double-A Birmingham this season, and Zavala did enough to earn a midseason promotion to Triple-A Charlotte.
Does it make Castillo, who now carries far more with him than simply a less-than-hoped-for year at the plate, somewhat expendable? Maybe, maybe not. Certainly the White Sox still value his experience, and he could be a valuable resource not just for the young pitchers but for those young catchers making their way to the majors.
Right now, though, Castillo’s role will be much what it was prior to the suspension. There’s only a month remaining in the season, but it’s a month in which Castillo can have an impact on these young pitchers.