By Todd Johnson
Usually, there are two kinds of catchers in a minor-league system. First, there are the organizational catchers. These are guys are just paid to catch. They are almost like a player/coach with no hopes of reaching the majors. Sometimes, they are in the bullpen; sometimes, they are in the game. Sometimes, they play first base or DH. The second kind of catcher is the legitimate prospect. There are a lot of those in the Cubs’ minor league system. Every level has one, some levels have two.
Even though there are about 20 catchers rostered across the six American affiliates, I am only going to rank nine. My reason for doing just nine is that Wilson Contreras blocks everyone else in the system for the next five years. There will be an opportunity to be a backup and that’s about it. Any catchers the Cubs develop through 2021 will be limited as to where they can go and what they can do in this system.
In ranking the catcher position, I split the analysis into two parts the offense and the defense. If it was just offense Victor Caratini would win going away. If it was just defense, PJ Higgins would dominate. Combined, it makes for an interesting discussion of value and just who can help the Cubs at the next level and in what capacity.
1. PJ Higgins – In his first full year of catching, Higgins showed off an arm unlike any other in the system with a timed throw around 1.9 down to second base. That is far superior to anybody else in the system. He wasn’t too shabby of a hitter either. While his batting average fluctuated between .270 and .290, his OBP was always close to .400. Like Caratini, Higgins did not display much power, but I think in a backup catcher role, what you’re looking for is the defense. He displayed that in spades
2. Victor Caratini – In 2017, Victor had his best season as a Cubs prospect. He hit .291 on the season at AA Tennessee and displayed some power, but not a lot of power at the plate. This fall he worked on improving his defense in the Arizona Fall League, and heading into 2018, he is on pace to replace Miguel Montero as the backup at catcher in Chicago. I even think he might get a look this year or if there is an injury to either Montero or Contreras. I also would not be surprised if the Cubs went out got a backup catcher this year just so Victor can have a full year at AAA.
3. Ian Rice – Power! That’s what Rice has in spades and he brought it to the table this year at South Bend and Myrtle Beach. For the year, Rice hit 15 HRs in 97 games between 2 levels. He showed the ability to get on base (.380) as well as hit for power. On the other hand, he did not catch much. I sometimes wonder if Rice is going to be shifted to first base. I think this spring, he will be more focused on the day-to-day duties of handling a pitching staff. Out of all the catchers in the Cubs’ system, I’m most interested to see what he can do behind the plate on a daily basis.
4. Cael Brockmeyer – Every level he has been to in the Cubs system, pitchers love pitching to Cael Brockmeyer. Last year was a bit of a whirlwind for him as shuttled between 3 levels. The big 6’5” catcher sets a low target and has a decent arm. He also calls a great game and can get in a pitcher’s head, unlike any catcher the Cubs have. He’s a leader among leaders. His bat was a little off-kilter last year. He did very well at Tennessee hitting .317 in just under 20 games, but he struggled some in just over 30 games at AAA. He’s been known to hit for average more than power. I like him as a backup catcher at the next level. I think he could see some time before Caratini in Chicago just because Cael is more suited for that role and could slide easily into being a team player in a bench role.
5. Michael Cruz – Like Rice, Michael came into the system and began to hit immediately. The power took a little bit to come around, but at the end of the year, he showed why the Cubs selected him in the 2016 draft. And like Rice, he has some work to do behind the plate. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in South Bend to start next year, but I also think because his defense needs some work and that Eugene is the perfect landing spot for him.
6. Sam Tidaback – The Cubs only drafted a few position players in the 2016 draft. I think Sam might be one of the biggest surprises. He finished the year at South Bend and I’m not quite sure what to think of him. He looks to have a solid bat and a solid approach when it comes to hitting for average and getting on base, but I’m not for sure about the power. He looked promising in just a short sample size.
7. Tyler Alamo – He is probably one of the nicest kids in the system. I got to chat with him while he was in the on-deck circle in Clinton Iowa. He came across very down to earth, well mannered, and well tempered. Last year, he reshaped his body physically and it paid off in the first half at South Bend. He showed that he could hit with power and manage a pitching staff. Minor injuries bugged him in the second half and I wonder how the big framed catcher will improve over this offseason to be ready for 2017.
8. Will Remillard – It’s been two years since he’s seen a regular-season game. After back to back Tommy John surgeries, I am ready to see him hit and play again. He was one of my favorite players on the 2014 Kane County championship team. Before his second Tommy John surgery last spring, his bat looked as good as it did in 2014.
9. Albert Mineo – The young Italian was signed several years ago. At first, I thought he was a bullpen catcher at South Bend. Then he started showing up in games, in more ways than one. I didn’t think he was in there except for defensive reasons. But then his bat clearly showed that he was ready to play in South Bend as he drove in 26 runs in 40 games. To look at him, he’s not the most athletic looking fellow. However, he actually was pretty decent. I think as the year went on he became more and more confident in his skills. He should be at Myrtle Beach this year where we will see how that success carries over.
And there are others: Tyler Payne, Marcus Mastrobuoni, Gioskar Amaya, etc. When the Epstein Triumvirate took over five years, the catching corps was one of the weakest parts of the Cubs’ system. Every year since, they draft two to three catchers. Now, the position is one of the strongest in the minors.