It's no bold statement to suggest that Welington Castillo is not a part of the long-term planning on the South Side.
The White Sox are still rebuilding, developing young players at all levels of the organization and crafting the core of a roster they hope will yield a perennial contender. Castillo's a 31-year-old veteran and barring something unforeseen will not be a part of that future. Zack Collins and Seby Zavala, a pair of catching prospects, are currently finishing off their minor league developments at Triple-A. Collins is off to a hot start, with five home runs in his first nine games as a Charlotte Knight. Both are expected to arrive in the major leagues sometime before time runs out on the 2019 season.
So what of Castillo? He was brought in two offseasons ago to help mold the team's numerous young starting pitchers, though he didn't get much opportunity to do that while serving a PED suspension that knocked 80 games off his workload last season. His offensive numbers, meanwhile, sank like a stone following a career year with the Baltimore Orioles in 2017. What looked like a useful veteran bridge to Collins and Zavala quickly became, within the fan base, a waiting game for his contract — which does have a team option for 2020, by the way — to expire.
Castillo, then, will be relied upon in 2019 to do what he couldn't in 2018: work with these young pitchers, chiefly Reynaldo Lopez, who he catches on a regular basis, and help turn them into guys the White Sox can hopefully build a future rotation around.
How's that going so far in 2019? The results haven't been great, with just a handful of good starts from the starting staff through the season's first 15 games. And none of them have come from Lopez. James McCann has caught all of Lucas Giolito's starts, same with Carlos Rodon's. So Castillo's main task this season seems to be Lopez, who's begun the season with 12.15 ERA in just 13.1 innings over his first three starts.
"I think that we have had our struggles here early. And I don’t know that has anything to do with our catchers as much as the pitchers are still trying to knock a little bit of the rust off and get themselves into a rhythm," manager Rick Renteria said before Lopez's start against the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday night. "But I think Wely has done what he’s needed to do with the guys we have.
"He and (McCann) are really good conversationalists with these guys in terms of baseball. When they get together and you see (pitching coach Don Cooper) and (assistant pitching coach Curt Hasler) and all the pitchers, the conversations are really good. They know what they are trying to accomplish and trying to get the best out of each pitcher. He’s doing what he needs to do to try to help us move forward."
Castillo admitted that working with struggling starters is less enjoyable than working with successful starters — not exactly a shock — but also expressed confidence that these guys, Lopez specifically, are going to turn things around.
"Honestly, it's not fun because it's part of my job to try to make them better, try to help them when they're not doing good," Castillo said Tuesday. "But I just try to stay in his mind, get in his mind and try to get his confidence back. It doesn't matter, anybody can miss a pitch, anybody can strike out, anybody can miss a play. You can't get your head down. Get your head up and keep doing your thing.
"I know the type of pitcher (Lopez) is, a guy that goes right at the hitter. He just hasn't been this year — maybe the weather or whatever it is — the guy that he was last year. But there's not any doubt about what he's capable of doing. Always when he takes the ball, I think we're going to go seven, eight innings. So that's the confidence I have in him, and that's a guy who goes right at the hitters. He's not afraid to pitch. I don't worry about him because I know him. We are really tight, and I know what he can do."
Castillo is one of a group of White Sox veterans whose impact on the franchise's future likely won't include them getting any big hits in a playoff game. When they were acquired, offseason additions like Yonder Alonso, Jon Jay and Ivan Nova were praised for the kinds of lessons they can leave behind in the clubhouse as much as for their on-field talent, which indicates the value the White Sox hope to get out these guys even if they aren't penciling them into the starting lineups for 2022 and 2023.
With Collins and Zavala nearing their major league debuts, Castillo falls into that veteran group, and it's hoped that what he can do for young pitchers like Lopez can breed key members of that rotation of the future. Considering it's been a slow offensive start for Castillo — despite bright spots like Monday night's clutch game-winning homer in the eighth inning — helping Lopez make strides this season will be his most important job.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.