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Cubs’ Welington Castillo showing he’s a keeper

Updated: September 12, 2013 6:54AM



ST. LOUIS — It’s not often these days that the Cubs get to say they have the best catcher on either ­roster on a day they play the St. Louis Cardinals.

But that’s how much ­Welington Castillo has proved to his bosses during his first full season as a big-league starter.

And, well, that’s also because Cardinals game-changer Yadier Molina is on the disabled list.

But for one weekend at least, the Cubs can gaze out of the dugout and imagine what it might look like some day when the Cardinals don’t necessarily have the best player on the field, the better home-grown core and the fuller pipeline of impact prospects on the way.

Castillo has been the best inspiration for that vision this weekend, helping the Cubs to victories in the first two games of the series, including a come-from-behind 6-5 triumph Saturday night.

In fact, the way he’s performing this season, Castillo has become the silver lining in the Cubs’ gloomy catching situation in the farm system. The position is thin enough in the organization that general manager Jed Hoyer said Friday the front office plans to make acquiring more catching a priority starting this winter.

“[Castillo has] proven to everyone that he’s a front-line defensive catcher,” manager Dale Sveum said. “And the way he’s swung the bat the last 10 days to two weeks — the way he’s been swinging and taking his walks … His mechanics allow him to be a good hitter, and you’re seeing that start to develop.”

Castillo, 26, has been the Cubs’ best player during the weeklong road trip through Philadelphia and St. Louis that wraps up Sunday.

He reached base three times Friday and scored the first run in a 3-0 victory over the Cards, and then reached base four times Saturday, including a homer in the second and a leadoff walk in the Cubs’ comeback eighth. He is 5-for-10 with six walks and twice has been hit by pitches in four starts during the trip.

He also threw out David Freese trying to steal second in the bottom of the second inning, and added a sacrifice fly in the fifth.

He is 16-for-38 (.421) with five extra-base hits since July 25. Maybe as important: He has struck out only six times in those 14 games after averaging close to a strikeout per game most of the season.

“We throw a lot at that kid, and he’s some a long way,” Sveum said. “There ain’t nobody better blocking the ball than he is. Obviously, he can throw. The way he calls games. There’s no question he’s a front-line catcher.”

And it’s no accident he tends to play some of his best baseball against the Cardinals, with his favorite defensive player, Molina, on the other side.

“He’s one of the best in the business. Why not learn from him?” says Castillo, whose coaching this year has included game film of Molina.

“Everyone knows how good he is,” Castillo says. “I love competition. I love to see him do things, and it’s like I want to do better than him, that kind of stuff.”

But it’s all part of the bigger picture, says the guy who by virtue of his critical position alone will have more to say about that big picture than most Cubs.

A big picture Castillo sees staring back at him every time the Cubs play the ­Cardinals.

“We’ve got to be like them,” he says, “and better than them one day.”

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Twitter: @GDubCub



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