When Theo Epstein came aboard as the Cubs President of Baseball Operations in the fall of 2011, most of the Cubs’ minor league organization was barren and dry; perhaps, the driest position was catcher. Over the past four summers, Epstein has drafted players, acquired catching prospects by trade, acquired international free agents, and converted several players to playing the backstop position. It is slowly turning into a position to watch for in the organization.
At the major league level, the position is fine for the short time with Miguel Montero and David Ross behind the plate. The problem is that those two are getting old quick. While the bats are less potent than they should be, their pitch framing skills are fine along with their handling of pitchers.
Montero is signed through 2017 and Ross through 2016. Ross looks to be retiring after this year. I think their biggest asset is in the clubhouse where the two hold players accountable for actions on the field. I could see both of these guys as coaches when they hang up the cleats. Ross could be doing that for the Cubs in 2017.
While Kyle Schwarber did catch a few games last year, however, his prognosis as a long term catcher is not good at this point. That’s not to say he can’t do it, but it is going to take a lot of work in the off season and spring training. I don’t think the Cubs will let him catch much in the regular season in 2016. LF looks to be his primary residence in 2016.
However, there is help on the way.
At the top of the list is Wilson Contreras. The Cubs 2015 Minor League Player of the Year stands head and shoulders above everyone else in his defensive skills and in his bat. Contreras led the Southern League in hitting and displayed some power. He was recently added to the Cubs 40 man roster. He will be at Iowa to start 2016.
Coming into 2015, Contreras had never hit above .273 as a Cub minor leaguer. He exploded to .333 and I don’t know if he can repeat that at AAA Iowa. On the other hand, Contreras’ reputation as a prospect was that it was only a matter of time before he broke out as a player.
Second on the list is the switch hitting Victor Caratini. When I think of all the prospects to see in 2016, Caratini might be near the top. One reason is he’s moving from the pitcher dominated Carolina League, to the more hitter friendly Southern League. Caratini hit at and around .250 through July at Myrtle Beach. In August he hit .284 and was the star of the team in the Mills Cup Championship Series, leading the team to the championship. The switch hitting catcher improved greatly this summer behind the plate and his emphasis on defense took away a little bit from his bat. I expect that to change quite a bit in 2016.
Cael Brockmeyer is huge. The 6’5″ catcher was an all-star in the Midwest League in the first half of 2015. He then most of July and early August shuffling around Iowa, Tennessee, and Myrtle Beach before settling in as the backup catcher and back up first baseman for Myrtle Beach. In 2014 Brockmeyer was part of the championship team Kane County. Pitchers love the throw to Brockmeyer because he sets such a big target. At the plate, the big right-hander can hit for high average and has occasional power, mainly to left field. I think his future is tied with what is going to happen with Victor Caratini. Brockmeyer’s recent stint in the Arizona Fall League revealed he might have some issues in throwing out runners at higher levels due to an elongated arm action. That can be fixed.
Will Remillard did not even play in 2015. He spent the year rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. In the first half of 2014, Remillard was one of the key cogs for the Kane County Cougars. He was one of the team leaders behind the plate and at the plate leading the team in RBIs in the first half. It would be a waste defensively to have him at South Bend in 2016. On the other hand, after taking year off, I don’t think his bat is ready for Myrtle Beach. More than likely, he will spend time at extended spring training to get his bat back in order before sending him out somewhere for the summer. I really enjoy watching him hit, and even more so, call a game.
Ben Carhart is a natural leader. He also has a solid bat. In 2015, Carhart had to fight off several minor injuries and came back to help lead Myrtle Beach to a championship. The former first and third baseman converted to being a catcher in 2014. He is known as a tenacious caller of games and motivator of pitchers. He has some solid power from the right side of the plate. It will be interesting to see how he does at Tennessee.
Ian Rice was the Cubs 29th round draft pick out of Houston. The catcher, like most catchers drafted after the 20th round, was to be an organizational catcher – you know, a bullpen catcher, defensively minded, and not much of a long term future. Something went wrong. Rice showed that not only could he catch, but the 22 year-old can also hit. He was hitting .260 before a season ending slide in September dropped him down to .252. 2016 should be interesting to see how does at South Bend and how he handles the brilliant staff of young arms.
Former second baseman Gioskar Amaya just finished his first year behind the plate at South Bend. 2016 will find Amaya at Myrtle Beach where his focus will be on improving on throwing out runners. 2015 draftee Vimael Machin is moving from the infield to behind the plate and likely will be at South Bend with Rice. Tyler Alamo, a catcher who showed some pop in his bat at Eugene, likely will be moved off of catcher to focus more on 1B and his burgeoning power stroke in 2016.
While the Cubs do have is a lot of catchers with potential, Contreras is currently the only fully formed one with a potent bat and good defense. The others are progressing. The question becomes: How fast can the others progress? For me, I think if Will Remillard can bounce back and stay healthy, it changes a lot of things about the catching position in in the organization in 2016.
I think in the coming years that the Cubs will continue to select a couple of catchers every year in hopes that they can find one whom they can develop.