The Cubs placed Geovany Soto and Derrek Lee on the 15-day disabled list and the bereavement list, respectively, on Tuesday. In their stead will be 23-year-old Welington Castillo and 30-year-old Micah Hoffpauir from Triple-A Iowa.
If you've been paying any attention to the North Siders these past few seasons, you're probably fairly familiar with Hoffpauir from his stellar stint with the Cubs in 2008, his less impressive 2009 season as Lee's backup, and a left-handed power bat off the bench. His recent play in Iowa suggests that he's getting back to his 2008 form, riding an 18-game hitting streak into his promotion, and posting a slash line of .338/.402/.683 since July 1st.
Heading into next season, he will have no options remaining and will have accumulated less than two years of big league service time. As such, he will most likely need to be retained on the 25-man roster (or risk being picked up on irrevocable outright assignment waivers) and will still be under team control through 2015.
However brief this call-up ends up being, it might be Micah's first audition for the Cubs' 2011 gig as their starting first baseman. If Lee and Xavier Nady ask for more money than the Cubs are willing to give them, or otherwise don't fit into their plans going forward, the job might become Hoffpauir's to lose.
You might not be as well-acquainted with Castillo, though. Getting his first taste of the big leagues, he's a defensive-minded catcher with a little pop who might find himself backing up Soto in the near future.
Since Castillo will not come close to having a year's worth of big league service time going into next year and will still have two options remaining, he'll probably be due for a permanent call-up no later than 2013.
Conveniently, Koyie Hill's final year of team control will be 2012, so there's no need to rush the young catcher up to the big leagues for more than the occasional fill-in job when Soto and Hill are out of action.
In the meantime, he can work on furthering his progress both at the plate and behind it in the minor leagues. Cubs fans can rest assured that one catcher going down on the North Side won't be the end of the world.
Barring a turnaround of legendary proportions, this season is pretty much in the books, but there is still plenty for fans to watch. A bunch of talent will be working its way up these next few years, and as the Reds have proven this season, it might not be so long before the Cubs are in the thick of things once again.
So when you're watching the Cubs these next few days, pay attention. Those two fresh faces could be helping the team's playoff pushes for years to come.
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