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To Welington Castillo, Communication Is Key

March 15, 2017
SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Baltimore Orioles and Matt Wieters were tied together for so long it may be inconceivable to think of any other catcher in black and orange. But the Orioles moved on from Wieters and signed Welington Castillo as his replacement Dec. 16, 2016.

Castillo may still be unfamiliar to many Orioles fans. Except for six games with Seattle in 2015, he's never played in the American League. He's also quite a contrast physically.

Generously listed as 5-foot-10, Castillo is at least seven inches shorter than the 6-foot-5 Wieters, and he knows the comparisons won't stop there.

But Castillo has power and a good arm, too. Wieters hit 17 home runs last year, and Castillo had 14, 19 the year before. Castillo threw out 38 percent of runners trying to steal in 2016, Wieters 35 percent.

But how will Castillo get along with the Orioles' pitchers, many of whom worked with Wieters for years?

All indications are Castillo is doing well. Before he left to play for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic March 5, Castillo got favorable reviews from his new pitchers.

"I like what I see back there, and I know that he has talent, and that's why we got him," right-hander Dylan Bundy said. "I think all the pitchers are looking forward to working with him and dealing with him."

Reliever Darren O'Day agreed: "He seems positive, upbeat, which is good out of a catcher. You want a guy who's easy to talk to. Just throwing to him, I can tell he's going to steal some strikes for us. He's got a lot to learn, so he's going to have to catch a lot of different guys. But [it's] encouraging, definitely, to throw to him."

Castillo said he's spent a lot of time early in camp trying to bond with the pitchers.

"We get along pretty good," Castillo said, "so I kind of talk to them and try to build that relationship and especially when I catch the bullpens. I just ask them, 'Where do you want me to set up? How do you like to pitch? What situation would you like to do this and do that?' The more that I talk to them, the better, the faster, I'm going to get to know them. They're really open to talk and let me [get to] know them."

Wieters could be physically intimidating, and one former Orioles pitcher said he only shook him off a handful of times during his Orioles tenure. That's not Castillo.

"I'm trying not to dwell on it too much," manager Buck Showalter said. "[Bench coach John Russell] and I were talking today about who Castillo is going to catch. It was X or [closer] Zach Britton. I said no, Britton. Every chance we get, I want Zach to feel comfortable."

Britton's sinker is vicious, and Showalter is careful to make sure his personality will mesh with Castillo's.

"And I also want Welington to step back and say, 'OK, this is a different cat. I really got to keep the ball down, work my way through it, not assume it's the end of the break,'" Showalter said. "He's a pleaser. He talks about it. This guy really wants to work on the things that he needs to work on."

By the time Castillo left for the WBC, he hadn't caught Britton in a game, only in bullpens.

"You need to be able to catch. You know he was going to be able to do that," Britton said. "A lot of it is just getting comfortable with the guy, to be able to feel comfortable talking to him about anything, him feeling comfortable coming up to you, saying, 'Hey, maybe that's not as good as I think you can throw.' And that's something we had with [Wieters]. I don't think Castillo is at that point yet where I feel he can give constructive criticism, but that's just part of the process."

Showalter said Francisco Pena, another Orioles catcher and fellow Dominican, walked up to him early during spring training and told him how much he would like Castillo.

Pena and another Dominican, Ubaldo Jimenez, both volunteered that Castillo was devoutly religious and a good person, and he gratefully accepted their kind thoughts.

"I feel very proud of guys like Pena and Ubaldo, the guys that know me, what kind of person I am," Castillo said. "I know myself, and I know them because we've been playing together and against them, so they know me. That's good when you have people like that talking on your side like that because everybody who gets to know you gets to know what kind of person you are. People are going to have an idea what kind of person you are.

"I was Christian since I was a kid. I'm the kind of guy who likes to enjoy what I do. I'm really calm. I'm a really calm guy. I feel like I need to pick the right time when I talk. I think religion helps with some people. I'm a big believer in God. My whole life I've been a Christian. I'm a God follower. I think that's going to help me my whole career because I know that everything I do is because He lets me do it. It's because of Him. I can't do anything without Him."

Before Jimenez's first spring training start, Castillo, who caught him in winter ball in the Dominican, worked with him in the bullpen. After each pitch, Castillo would comment in Spanish, and Jimenez followed up.

"Every time you have a guy behind you that you know, you feel comfortable," Jimenez said. "He's pretty good. He's pretty good. He puts a lot of work and a lot of pride to get better every day, and it shows."

Russell, whose job it is to work with the catchers, has found Castillo to be a good student.

"He's making adjustments," Russell said. "He's adjusting to a new team, adjusting to new teammates, adjusting to a new atmosphere. I think he's done a very good job. He's very open. We talked early in camp about some of the things we wanted to accomplish, and he's very open with it, the things that he wanted to get better at. You hear guys say that, and to actually really come out to do it, and show that [is good].

"He's willing to make a few changes and a couple of adjustments here and there. The biggest thing there when you start to do that is [to] feel that, and he's starting to really feel it, some of the things with his receiving and throwing that he's picked up on."

Castillo knows as long as he's with the Orioles, there will be the inevitable Wieters comparisons.

"Wieters is a really good catcher. He's a great catcher," Castillo said. "When I talk to the pitchers, they never say, 'Wieters did it this way. I want to continue to do it this way.' They're really open. I'm the one that has to adjust myself to them. If you want me to set up a little bit off the plate, more on the plate, up target, down, I'm the one that has to make the adjustments. They know their stuff. I don't know them really well. That's why spring training is the time to get to know each guy. I'm really open to learning and build[ing] a relationship."