Welington Castillo

What can the returned Welington Castillo offer the White Sox over the final month of the season?

What can the returned Welington Castillo offer the White Sox over the final month of the season?

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.

Suspended catcher Welington Castillo working his way back to White Sox with minor league rehab stint

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USA TODAY

Suspended catcher Welington Castillo working his way back to White Sox with minor league rehab stint

With about a week until the end of his 80-game suspension, Welington Castillo his making his way back to the White Sox.

The veteran catcher joined Triple-A Charlotte for a rehab assignment Friday, in the Knights' lineup for their afternoon game.

Castillo has been serving his suspension since May 24, when Major League Baseball handed down its punishment for his testing positive for a banned substance. He's eligible to return Aug. 23, just nine days before rosters expand.

The White Sox added Castillo over the offseason after he had career years offensively and defensively with the Baltimore Orioles during the 2017 season. The hope was he could provide a veteran presence and help out with the development of the team's young pitching staff — and of course that his bat could help bolster the team's everyday lineup. A two-year contract with an option for a third meant that if all went well, Castillo could be around for the start of the team's transition from rebuilding to contending, a sort of bridge to top catching prospect Zack Collins.

Things obviously did not work out as planned, and Castillo has missed months of time working with the pitchers while he's served his suspension.

Still, his return will perhaps be a welcome help to young pitchers still learning how to succeed against major league lineups, guys like Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, who have had inconsistent first full campaigns in the big leagues — not to mention any young pitchers who might be called up from the minor leagues over the season's final month and a half.

As for the team's catching situation, Omar Narvaez has done very well at the plate since taking over as the starting catcher when Castillo was suspended. Since the beginning of June, Narvaez is slashing .356/.433/.559, and his season batting average of .282 is one of the highest on the team. Kevan Smith, the No. 2 catcher, is hitting .283 on the season. Castillo will return with a .267/.309/.466 slash line in 33 games he played in before being suspended.

White Sox back to 2017 catching pair as Kevan Smith joins Omar Narvaez while Welington Castillo serves suspension

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USA TODAY

White Sox back to 2017 catching pair as Kevan Smith joins Omar Narvaez while Welington Castillo serves suspension

The 2017 White Sox catching tandem is now the 2018 White Sox catching tandem.

Kevan Smith was brought up from Triple-A Charlotte before Tuesday's doubleheader in Minnesota, and he'll once more team with Omar Narvaez to form the 1-2 catching punch on the South Side for, presumably, the next couple of months while Welington Castillo continues to serve his 80-game suspension for PED use.

Catcher was one of the few positions the White Sox addressed during the offseason, and they brought in Castillo with hopes that he'd be able to help develop a young pitching staff and provide some offense after career years both at and behind the plate. Castillo's two-year contract with an option for a third made for the possibility that he could be the catcher when this rebuilding process yields a planned contender.

But all that went pear shaped with Castillo's suspension, and now the White Sox are back to where they were for the next couple months.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. Last season, Smith and Narvaez quietly were one of the more consistent offensive catching pairs in the American League. White Sox catchers led the Junior Circuit with a .279 batting average and a .346 on-base percentage. Power was a different story, of course, and they ranked 21st in baseball with a .381 slugging percentage.

It's unlikely that Smith's return will spark Narvaez to life offensively. Narvaez is in the midst of a miserable season at the dish, entering Tuesday's pair of games with a .179/.281/.238 slash line.

Smith, meanwhile, has played just 30 games at Triple-A thanks to multiple DL stints this year. But his numbers there are better than what Narvaez has managed with the White Sox. Smith brings a .268/.331/.411 line up from Charlotte.

Will Smith and Narvaez again quietly lead AL catchers in batting average and on-base percentage? That seems doubtful.

The main hope with Smith returning is that he'll be able to provide some more defensive consistency — Narvaez has one of the highest passed-balls totals in the game with eight — and do a little of the work Castillo was supposed to do with these young pitchers during the latter's absence.

This wasn't how this catching group was supposed to look coming into this season. But here the White Sox are again.