Spring Training NRI’s….The Catchers

While many remain very interested in what may or may not transpire with the Orioles, pitchers and catchers report to Fitch Park….in just one day. The winter long speculation of what could be and what should be is just about over. Several reports have indicated Jim Hendry is still exploring ways to improve his club before the games start to count in six weeks. While Hendry may still be working the phones, Lou Piniella has the task of molding the players on the Cubs roster into a winning team.

The CCO will take a look at the pitchers and catchers on the 40-man roster on Wednesday as a part of ‘The Storylines of Spring’. Here is a look at the catchers that received non-roster invitations to Spring Training last month.

Welington Castillo

Castillo is one of the many bright spots in the Cubs organization and is proof the farm system is heading in the right direction. While Castillo does not figure to help the big league team in the near future, he appears to have all the right tools to be a successful Major League catcher.

Castillo signed with the Cubs as a non-drafted free agent in December of 2004 and at the age of 20 is coming off a solid year. At Class-A Peoria he hit .271 (.323 against left-handers) with a .334 OBP with 11 home runs and 44 RBI’s in 98 games. But he is much better defensively.

Oneri Fleita has compared Castillo to Yadier Molina and several members of the organization have compared him to Geovany Soto. One scouting report said, “It is hard to get a ball past him and he can shut down a running game.” The Vine Line rated Castillo as the catcher with the best range in the organization. Castillo “moves very well with an exceptional arm behind the plate.

Castillo is ranked as the Cubs 9th best prospect by Baseball Prospectus.

2008 Outlook – Welington Castillo should start the year in Double-A but exposure to big league camp and Henry Blanco could go a long way in his development.

J.D. Closser

The 27 year-old switch-hitting catcher was drafted in the 5th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 1998. Closser has yet to fulfill his promise at the Major League level. He was in the Rockies organization from 2004-2006 and hit .239 with 10 home runs and 48 RBI’s in 160 big league games.

Closser was with the Brewers organization early last season before being traded to the A’s in May. He his .238 with 11 home runs and 45 RBI’s last year at Triple-A.

Closser has decent power from both sides of the plate but must cut down on his strikeouts and learn to hit more often with runners on base according to a couple of scouting reports. Defensively he is described as being hard-nosed behind the plate with a strong arm and is said to call a good game. Many thought Closser had enough potential to one day be an above average catcher.

2008 Outlook – Closser figures to be one of the backstops at Iowa this season.

Josh Donaldson

The Cubs drafted Josh Donaldson with the sandwich pick (between the 1st and 2nd round) they received from the Dodgers for Juan Pierre in last year’s draft (48th overall pick). Donaldson had a strong first year in pro ball and was named to the Short-Season All-Star team by Baseball America. Donaldson’s .460 OBP in Mesa and Boise ranked him 3rd among all minor leaguers and his .590 SLG ranked him 13th. Donaldson hit .346 in 49 games for Boise and led all Northwest League catchers with a .990 fielding percentage.

Donaldson was a shortstop and pitcher in high school and played third base at Auburn before switching to behind the plate prior to his sophomore year.

Donaldson can hit but his defensive skills have been labeled as questionable….most think he will improve as he gets more comfortable behind the plate. Several in the Cubs organization have labeled Donaldson as the most athletic catcher in the system.

Donaldson is ranked in the top 10 in most of the Cubs top prospect lists…. #7 by Baseball America, #6 by John Sickels, #5 by Baseball Prospectus and #10 by Deric McKamey.

2008 Outlook – Donaldson appears to have a bright future and will likely start the 2008 season in Class-A.

Koyie Hill

One of the many storylines of the spring will be the Cubs catching corp. From all indications, and rightfully so, Geovany Soto will be the Cubs’ starting catcher in the upcoming season….and hopefully in the years to come. But with the uncertainty of Soto and the health of Henry Blanco, Koyie Hill could once again make himself a factor in the upcoming season.

Hill, like Blanco, is not an offensive catcher, but proved last season he is better than average behind the plate. Hill stepped in after the Barrett-Zambrano fight and became Zambrano’s catcher during Big Z’s most productive part of the season. Hill is a good game caller and receiver but struggles mightily from both sides of the plate offensively. Hill was with the Cubs from June 1st to August 20th last year before being DFA’d and returning to Iowa….the Cubs were 17-8 last season in games Koyie Hill started.

2008 Outlook – Koyie Hill’s destination for the upcoming season depends on the health of Henry Blanco. If ‘Hank White’ is healthy enough to backup Geovany Soto, Hill will be with the Iowa Cubs once again but if Blanco lands on the DL, look for Koyie Hill to be the first option to back-up Soto.

The CCO will take a further look at the non-roster infielder and outfielders later in the week. Also, check back later in the day for the latest from the CCO Feedback column.

2008 Spring Training Articles from the CCO

Quote of the Day

"People who write about Spring Training not being necessary have never tried to throw a baseball." – Sandy Koufax