2/15/2013 12:37 P.M. ET
Confident Castillo eager to get started
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
MESA, Ariz. -- Welington Castillo was matched up with Kyuji Fujikawa for a bullpen session, and after the pitcher was done, the two met to go over the workout. Castillo is from the Dominican Republic and knows how to say "hello" in Japanese and not much else, so interpreter Ryo Shinkawa joined the conversation.
Fujikawa understands "fastball," "split-finger" and "cutter" in English, which will ease the transition. Because Castillo is the Cubs' No. 1 catcher this year, he needs to be able to communicate not just with the Cubs' new right-handed setup man but with all the pitchers on the staff.
"That's going to be my key in Spring Training with all these new guys -- to get to know each other, try to get their confidence, try to get everything on their mind," Castillo said. "'How do you like to pitch? Where do you want me to sit in certain counts?' Then, when the game comes, we can go for it, because I'll know how he likes to pitch, what pitch he likes to throw when he's behind in the count."
If the sessions go as well as Fujikawa's did, Castillo will be fine.
"It was really good -- I moved in and out, and wherever I moved, he made the pitch," Castillo said. "He threw his split-finger both sides, breaking ball both sides, cutter was good. His two-seam is pretty good. Everything's good.
"He's fun to catch because he puts the ball wherever he wants to. He's really good."
Fujikawa also has a good sense of humor. At least, manager Dale Sveum thinks he does.
"He's got a great personality, from what I can understand, anyway," Sveum said. "He's always got a smile on his face and is always asking questions, usually about fishing or golf."
"Bass fishing," Sveum said. "He was really excited about the new bass pond at the new [Spring Training] complex next year."
It's all part of getting to know each other. The early side sessions give Castillo a chance to learn each pitcher's tendencies.
"[Fujikawa] told me, 'When a man's on first and I'm behind in the count, I like to throw the split middle away to get a ground ball to second base and get a double play,' and same with a right-hander, middle away," Castillo said. "He likes to play around with his pitches. He's pretty smart, he knows what to do."
But Fujikawa doesn't speak much English. Castillo will try to learn more Japanese. Could they speak Spanish?
"No, no Spanish," Castillo said, laughing. "We have a lot of time to get used to each other."
Some of the pitchers know Castillo from last season. The young catcher began 2012 in Triple-A after Steve Clevenger won the job as Geovany Soto's backup. Castillo was called up when Clevenger was injured, then got more playing time after Soto was dealt to the Rangers at the non-waiver Trade Deadline. Castillo played in 43 games after the All-Star break, batting .279; Clevenger appeared in 33 games and batted .121.
Castillo did not play in the Dominican Republic winter league this offseason but instead spent five weeks at a Florida facility to work with a personal trainer. Staying healthy will be key.
"I'm swinging good, working, catching," he said. "This chance, it's time to take this step. I can handle the pitching staff and let them know I'm here to help them, that I know what I'm doing. I'm getting confident. When the season starts, they won't complain. I'll know what they like to throw, they'll know I know what I'm doing. Spring Training, you take it into the season. We'll get to know each other. Everything is going to be good."
He has an extra teacher in backup Dioner Navarro, an eight-year veteran who has played for the Yankees, Dodgers, Rays and Reds.
"He's been helping me a lot," Castillo said. "He's a great guy. He told me, 'I'm here for you. Anything you want me to do, tell me. Anything you need to improve on, I'll help you, I'll let you know.' He's been really good -- a good guy to learn from with a lot of experience in the big leagues -- playoffs, too. He's really good behind the plate. He's been teaching me a lot and talking to me about game calling."
Plus, Navarro has a good sense of humor; Castillo said the veteran likes to joke around.
"He enjoys the game," Castillo said. "That's me, too. Baseball is a game, so you have to enjoy it. Just play hard and enjoy the game. Whatever happens, happens. You're just trying to do your best."
Castillo can tell that the Cubs believe in him. The catchers are put together in the locker room at Fitch Park, and the No. 1 guy always gets one of the end lockers. Castillo has been at the opposite end enough times.
"I was over there a lot of years," he said, pointing to where young catcher Michael Brenly was standing. "That doesn't matter -- wherever you are, you just come and do your work, try to have a good time with these guys."
He's eager to get started.
"We expect a lot of positive things this year," he said. "Last year is over. I don't remember anything about last year. This is a new year, new team. We're looking forward."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.