Position Analysis – Catcher
Welcome to the first installment of a series that summarizes and projects how the minor league system looks on a position by position basis. Today, the CCO will look at a position that is moving toward being one of the strongest in the organization: Catcher.
The Cubs have a bona fide star in 2014 first round draft pick Kyle Schwarber. The trouble comes as to where he fits right now at the position. The Cubs have veterans Miguel Montero and David Ross, so reps behind the plate, considered to be the weakest part of Schwarber’s game, will be hard to come by. Playing left field in order to keep his bat in the line-up, Schwarber has hit .243/.351/.505/.855 with six doubles, a triple, 16 home runs, and 43 RBI in63 big league games.
Signing a minor league contract this spring, Major League veteran Taylor Teagarden was a valuable addition to the Cubs organization. When the Cubs had a rash of injuries and personal issues deplete their catching corps, they were able to turn to Teagarden for relief. The 31-year old played eight games with the parent club and started 63 for Triple-A Iowa, batting .305/.379/.452/.831 with 12 doubles, a triple, five home runs, and 31 RBI. Teagarden was also able to provide leadership and experience, as well as fielding .993 with 24% caught stealing. Teagardenâs future with the club will depend a lot on what happens at the top, but he would be a good player to resign should Ross decide to call it a career.
One of the unsung heroes of the minor leagues is system catcher Taylor Davis. Unlike other positions, system catchers will spend a lot of time moving up and down the minor league chain, plugging holes created by the physically demanding position. The 25-year old Davis had one of his best professional seasons, playing 83 games at Triple-A Iowa and batting a combined .311/.361/.483/.845 with 26 doubles, two triples, nine home runs, and 43 RBI in 104 games between the I-Cubs and Double-A Tennessee. Davis, known as an above-average defensive catcher with a lifetime 29% caught stealing mark, also has some versatility, with experience at both third base and first base. Davis projects as a Henry Blanco type, and will probably enjoy a long career as a Major League back-up once he is able to break through.
One of the players that may change some of the plans for Schwarber could be Willson Contreras. The 23-year old turned the minor league world on its ear by leading the Southern League in hitting this season and finishing in the top three of every major offensive category except home runs and stolen bases. Contreras batted .333/.413/.478/.891 with 34 doubles, four triples, eight home runs, 75 RBI, and four stolen bases. What has remained the same is that Contreras is a crackerjack defender, fielding .987 and erasing 28% of all base runners this past season. Contreras also has an intense personality that will not let his teammates slack off for a moment. Currently, the Cubs have assigned Contreras to the Arizona Fall League. How he performs there and in winter ball, where Contreras had played the last two years, could affect the Cubs decision process at the position. Contrerasâ defense and offense are what you like to see out of a back-up catcher, and he also has experience at the four corners (third and first base, left and right field) along with some distant exposure to second base. With that versatility, Contreras could slide behind Montero toward the end of next season, leaving Schwarber to concentrate on playing the outfield.
Backing up at Tennessee was a surprise choice in Tyler Pearson. Selected in the 25th round in 2014, the 23-year old Pearson played in only 16 games this past season, batting .150/.292/.275/.567 with three doubles, a triple, and an RBI. Pearson was a mixed bag behind the dish, fielding at only .967 but throwing out 32% of all base stealers. Pearson may knock around as a system catcher for another season or so.
The catching corps for Tennessee for 2016 looks to be well stocked, starting with Cael Brockmeyer. It was a bit of a surprise when Brockmeyer opened the 2015 season with Low-A South Bend. Brockmeyer had already spent 77 games at that level in 2014, and was one of the last non-roster catchers reassigned to minor league camp by the Cubs in Spring Training. The soon to be 24-year old (October 8) took the assignment in stride and led South Bend in home runs and RBI through 63 games, earning a Midwest All-Star selection. However, the Cubs had bigger plans for Brockmeyer, sending him to Double-A Tennessee for seven games and Triple-A Iowa for five before bringing him back to High-A Myrtle Beach for 36 games to finish out the season. In all, Brockmeyer played in 111 games at four levels, hitting a combined .251/.338/.389/.726 with 24 doubles, a triple, nine home runs, 61 RBI, and a stolen base. At 6-foot-5, 235-pounds, Brockmeyer is one of the many catchers the Cubs are cross-training at first base. Presently, Brockmeyer is more advanced as a catcher, fielding .996 with a 22% caught stealing against only a .983 fielding percentage at first base. The Cubs brass seems to be very high on Brockmeyer as he has been assigned to the Arizona Fall League as a taxi squad member.
It was somewhat of a lost season for Ben Carhart, who lost significant time to injury. The 25-year old played only 44 games at High-A Myrtle Beach this past year. Carhart still contributed to the Pelicansâ Carolina League championship season, batting .255/.324/.444/.768 with eight doubles, seven home runs, and 25 RBI. A converted third baseman, Carhart has taken to his new position, fielding a perfect 1.000 and nailing 24% of all base runners. Carhart also has experience at first and second base, making him a valuable man to have on your roster.
Had the Pelicans’ year ended at the conclusion of the regular season, most would have expected for Victor Caratini to repeat 2016 at Myrtle Beach. But after a playoff performance that had him named the Mills Championship Series MVP, that possibility seems less certain. At the plate, the 22-year old was a disappointing .257/.342/.372/.714 with 31 doubles, a triple, four home runs, and 53 RBI in 112 games. In the playoffs, the switch-hitter shined, going 7-for-11with four doubles and four RBI. The one thing Caratini provided was airtight defense. Handling one of the most talented pitching staffs in Cubs minor league history, Caratini helped the staff become league leaders in ERA and WHIP. Caratini fielded an impressive .992 in his first full-season at the position, nabbing 29% of all would be base thieves. Like a majority of the catchers in the system, Caratini had some exposure at first base. Caratini will be joining several of his teammates in a new advanced Fall Instructional League team with prospects from the Los Angeles Angels.
A somewhat lost prospect was Jordan Hankins. The 23-year old had been a Midwest League All-Star as a third baseman for Kane County in 2014, but struggled when he was promoted to High-A Daytona, hitting only .218. The Cubs then converted Hankins back to catcher in the fall, the position they originally drafted him at in 2013. For the 2015 season, Hankins was held back in extended Spring Training, not being assigned to Myrtle Beach until mid-May, essentially replacing the injured Ben Carhart. Hankins saw action in only 23 games for the Pelicans before moving back down to Low-A, this time with South Bend. In a total of 28 games between the two teams, the left-handed batter hit .256/.347/.354/.701 with five doubles, a home run, 11 RBI, and two stolen bases. Hankins has shown better ability at catcher than at third base, fielding 1.000 with 63% caught stealing in 11 games behind the dish. Just where Hankins figures in the big picture is uncertain.
However things shake out, one of the catchers beginning 2016 for Myrtle Beach should be Gioskar Amaya. Another conversion project, Amaya was an above-average second base prospect when asked to take up behind the plate, as well as first base. With a lot of new responsibilities, Amayaâs offense suffered even though he was moved back down to Low-A South Bend. Although it seems as if he has been with the organization forever, the 22-year oldâs 17 stolen bases were his second highest total in his career, as he hit .260/.341/.345/.686 with 18 doubles, two triples, four home runs, and a career high 43 RBI. Amaya did surprisingly well at both new positions, fielding .993 at catcher and .990 at first base, with 18% caught stealing. Amaya now has career experience at all four infield positions and catcher. What the organization will do with that remains to be seen.
The status of Erick Castillo is still undetermined at this time, but it appears he is ready to lean more toward prospect rater than system catcher. The 22-year old finally made it out of the depths of the Cubs affiliates, appearing in 40 games for Low-A South Bend. Castillo showed that his bat still needs some work, hitting .222/.250/.252/.502 with four doubles and 13 RBI. Considered to be a very good receiver that pitchers like working with, Castillo fielded .996 and had a 33% caught stealing rate. Castillo is in need of further reps, so it is hoped that he can latch on a team in winter baseball.
The Cubs had a pair of 20-year olds sharing the catching duties for Short Season-A Eugene, Alberto Mineo and Tyler Alamo. Alamo was taken in the 24th round of the 2013 draft as a high school player out of California. A big kid at 6-foot-4, 200-pounds, Alamo seems to have turned a corner in his development. Alamo continued to improve his receiving skills, fielding at .997 and erasing 30% on the base paths. Also making progress at the plate, Alamo hit .261/.338/.268/.606 with a double, 14 RBI, and a stolen base in 41 games. Mineo was signed out of the MLB European Academy as a 16-year old in 2011. The lefty has spent the early part of the season as a reserve for High-A Myrtle Beach. When Jordan Hankins returned to the Pelicans, Mineo went back to extended Spring Training to prepare for his time with the Emeralds. Mineo played in nearly half of Eugeneâs games, batting .202/.308/.303/.611 with six doubles, two triples, a home run, 12 RBI and a stolen base in 32 games. Having strong catching skills and boasting a career .987 fielding average and 26% caught stealing rate, Mineo seems to have some confidence from the front office. Both Alamo and Mineo spent some time at first base, and are a work in progress there.
Also seeing time at catcher for the Emeralds was 2015 29th round pick Ian Rice. After signing, Rice played 47 games for the Eugene, mainly as a designated hitter. The 22-year old caught 18 games and fielded .975 with a paltry 7% caught stealing average. Rice did much better at the plate than behind it, batting .252/.375/.340/.715 with eight doubles, two home runs, 19 RBI, and two stolen bases. It is not clear what the Cubs intend to do with Rice, but he has been invited to the Fall Instructional League.
After catching 17 games in Arizona in the rookie league this season, the Cubs are now moving 18-year old Yohan Matos to the outfield. Signed as an international free agent in 2013, Matos was not bad defensively, fielding .984 and throwing out 29% of all base runners. The problem was his offense, in which Matos batted .156/.226/.221/.447 with two doubles, a home run, 11 RBI, and a stolen base in 23 games. The Cubs believe that Matosâ offensive potential is better than he showed, and a move to the outfield will allow him to concentrate on that part of his game more.
The Cubs split most time with two 2015 draft picks with the AZL Cubs, 25th round selection Marcus Mastrobuoni and 30th round pick Tyler Payne. Neither one hit well, Mastrobuoni with a .159/.269/.182/.451 line and Payne batting .192/.333/.212/.545. But both showed strong receiving skills as the 21-year old Mastrobuoni fielded .984 with a 30% caught stealing, while the 22-year old Payne nailed 53% of all base runners and fielded 1.000. Nineteen-year old Jhonny Pereda caught nine games for the A-Cubs and batted .143/.225/.229/.454, with a .980 fielding percentage and nailing 56% of all base thieves.
Developing nicely in the Dominican Summer League is Erick Gonzalez. The 18-year old remains a top flight defensive catcher, fielding .996 and erasing 48% of all base runners. Gonzalez has also improved his offensive game, hitting .278/.333/.398/.731 with five doubles, a triple, two home runs and 15 RBI in 31 games. Eighteen-year old Raymond Pena had a little more difficult time in his first professional season. Pena hit only .109/.238/.127/.336 with two doubles and five RBI, while fielding only .960 in 35 games. Pena did gun down 40% of all runners. Richard Nunez split time between catcher and first base, batting .246/.249/.331/.379 with six doubles, a triple, a home run, 23 RBI, and four stolen bases in 40 games. The 20-year old fielded .9995 at first and .981 with 33% caught stealing at catcher.
The Cubs had a pair of 18-year old catchers that the Venezuelan Summer League that bear some watching, Daniel Diaz and Gustavo Polanco. Diaz is the defender, fielding .984 with a 36% caught stealing. However, Diaz batted only .160/.316/.186/.502 with a double, a home run, and 12 RBI in 54 games. Polanco is the offensive threat, hitting .282/.332/.333/.665 with 10 doubles, 23 RBI, and three stolen bases in 53 games. Polanco fielded a respectable .969 with 28% caught stealing. Both Diaz and Polanco also saw some time at first base.