Who’s Behind the Dish?

The recent injury to Cubs’ catcher Dioner Navarro exposed a critical gap in the Cubs’ minor league system, the lack of quality catching prospects.  Team president Theo Epstein said that three players have been targeted to convert to catcher to improve the system’s overall depth.

But which players have the front office targeted?

From the most to least likely, here are a few possibilities that could be on Epstein’s radar …

Anthony Giansanti: The soon-to-be 25-year old has converted to catcher before, seeing two games at the position in 2012. The organization has had a hard time figuring out what to do with Giansanti. He has played every position on the field except shortstop, and yes, he’s even pitched. Giansanti is considered to be a good athlete and his throwing arm rivals Junior Lake as the best in the system. Giansanti is hitting .282/.341/.371 with 13 doubles, three triples and one home run in stops with Tennessee, Iowa and Daytona this season. In four minor league seasons, Giansanti has hit .265/.326/.380 with 52 doubles, 10 triples and 15 home runs. He would figure to bring average offensive production to the catcher position, especially for a back-up.

Rock Shoulders: Named the Cubs’ Minor League Player of the Month in April, Shoulders hit .370/.457/.642 with five home runs and 16 RBI to start the season. Since then Shoulders has tailed off and is now at .255/.350/.455 with 17 home runs and 62 RBI. Primarily used as a designated hitter, Shoulders has seen time at first base and the outfield and insiders have also reported that he takes grounders at third base in training sessions. Shoulders is a lumbering type of player who may not last as an outfielder. Since third base and first base are positions well stocked in the system, and the National League does not have a DH, a move to catcher may be in the cards. Shoulders had some experience at the position in his background before he was drafted in 2011.

Jordan Hankins: The 2013 eleventh round draft pick out of Austin Peay University was actually drafted as a catcher after playing primarily at second base in college. The burly 5-foot-10, 195-pound 21-year old slugged ten home runs in 64 games before the draft and batted .325. With the Cubs, Hankins has mostly played third base while seeing some action at second. His overall fielding is adequate, with a .949 average at third base and a perfect 1.000 in five games at second. Hankins has hit .240/.308/.314 with a home run and 10 RBI in 35 games between the AZL Cubs and Boise. However, both third and second base are fairly deep positions within the organization. If Hankins can continue to improve his offense, his infield background should make for an easy transition to behind the plate, with game-calling being his biggest challenge.

Jae-Hoon Ha: Signed as a catcher out of South Korea in 2008, Jae-Hoon Ha was converted to an outfielder prior to beginning his professional career in 2009. Ha has developed in to a top-flight defender with a good throwing arm and is one of the best athletes in the entire organization. Ha probably would have been a multi-sport star if he had grown up in America. Ha has a .277/.325/.724 line and is considered one of the fastest players in the minors. However, that has not translated offensively as he only has 51 career stolen bases in 84 attempts. After showing some early home run promise, he hit 18 longballs in his first two full seasons, Ha has only hit ten home runs since. Ha does not project as a leadoff-type hitter you would like in centerfield, and isn’t the run producer you would like in one of the corners. He is a good enough athlete to revisit the catcher position. And at 22 years old and already in Triple-A, Ha has some time left on his developmental clock.

Mark Malave: The Cubs signed Malave as a catcher at the tender age of 16 in 2011. The native of Venezuela saw his first professional action in the Dominican Summer League last season and hit .229/.328/.278 while mainly playing third base. This season, the now 18-year old switch-hitter has seen playing time at all four infield positions in the Arizona Rookie League and is batting .271/.379/.318 with two doubles and one triple in 28 games. “The Baby Bull” as he is known, may return to his original position, but may not be close enough to the big leagues to be one of the players Epstein is referring to.

Jose Dore: Acquired from the Padres’ system in an off-season trade, Dore seems to be a favorite of General Manager Jed Hoyer. Selected by the Padres in the eighth round of the 2010 draft, Dore had not advanced beyond A-ball prior to this season and hit only .242/.324/.303 in nine combined games last season.  Primarily an outfielder and first baseman, Dore opened this season at third base for the Boise Hawks and essentially played himself out of the position by fielding .700 and committing three errors in ten chances.  Dore was moved back to the outfield and hit .200/.284/.356 with two home runs for the Hawks before receiving a promotion to Kane County. Dore has since hit .206/.275/.324 with a home run and six RBI in eleven games. In extended spring training this season, Dore was tried at every position except pitcher and catcher. Since he seems to be the apple of Hoyer’s eye, why not try him behind the plate?

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