A return to the Midwest League is part of the growth process for Quad-Cities catcher Juan Castillo.
The hottest hitter in the league two weeks into the season, Castillo has improved more than his batting average since playing 13 games for Quad-Cities early in 2011.
“I think he has learned a lot in the last year. There is some growth there, and it continues,” said River Bandits manager Luis Aguayo, who managed the Palm Beach team Castillo played for after a promotion from Quad-Cities last year.
The growth extends beyond what takes place between the lines on the baseball diamond.
The native of the Dominican Republic got married in the offseason, he continues to work to improve his English and he is focused on developing improved leadership skills.
“I have worked hard to get better, and this is where I wanted to be right now after last season,” Castillo said.
Castillo began 2011 on the River Bandits roster, hitting .350 over 13 games before being reassigned by the Cardinals to their high-A club at Palm Beach on May 11.
He saw action in just 13 games there, struggling with a .163 average in the Florida State League.
The frustration mounted, and in June, Castillo was ejected from a game after throwing a bat at an opposing pitcher who had thrown a pitch behind him.
The situation led to a bench-clearing situation. Shortly after, Castillo was reassigned by St. Louis to short-season Batavia.
He made the most of the reassignment, hitting .313 over 44 games and earning a spot on the New York-Penn League midseason all-star game.
His work allowed him to resume progression through the Cardinals’ farm system. Castillo has worked behind the plate in eight games for Quad-Cities this season.
“I understand now that I have to be responsible for my own actions,” Castillo said. “I paid a price for what I did and I learned from it. I am doing everything now to help make me a better person.”
Castillo returned to spring training ready to work. His early-season offensive production has been a byproduct of that work.
He tied his 2011 season home run total when he homered twice last Friday in a win at Cedar Rapids, and his .448 start at the plate has included four multi-hit games.
“I felt I had a good spring training and that has carried over here,” Castillo said. “I am trying to be consistent and keep that going. A lot of it has to do with getting more consistent with what I do at the plate.”
Aguayo said Castillo seems to have become more selective at the plate from the player he saw a year ago.
“He’s putting himself in good hitting situations by being more patient,” Aguayo said. “I think he is getting a better understanding of himself, and that is slowing the game down for him. That is helping him make better decisions.”
Castillo always has been regarded as a solid defensive catcher who possesses a solid arm.
Aguayo said his developmental objectives this season include an emphasis on staying more focused on keeping the balls he catches in the strike zone and developing better game-calling tendencies.
He also is working to gain a better command of the English language.
“That is something that is very important for me,” he said.
The reasons are multiple.
Being able to effectively communicate with teammates is a critical component for a catcher who is expected to work with the pitching staff and who is typically one of the more vocal leaders on the field.
“It is one of the more important roles at his position, and it is something that Juan needs to improve in,” Aguayo said. “We need him to get comfortable with English, and that would allow him to be more vocal. It’s something he is working on.”
Castillo is one of a number of River Bandits who are participating in English classes that are held several days each week at Modern Woodmen Park prior to early work that the team goes through before each home game.
“It is something I have to work on, and I am,” Castillo said. “I am here to work.”
The Castillo file
Hometown: Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Birthdate: Dec. 13, 1989
Weight: 190 pounds
Obtained: Signed as a non-drafted free agent, July 10, 2006
By the numbers: Hit .275 overall while splitting 70 games a year ago between Quad-Cities, Palm Beach and Batavia. … Is currently hitting .448 for the River Bandits, leading the league with an .840 slugging percentage
FYI: Castillo entered 2012 with 219 games of minor-league experience, hitting .296