By Todd Johnson
Every off-season, I rank every position in the Cubs system. This year was no different. Six years ago, catching was a major weakness in the system and now is one of the strongest positions in the organization. This goes for both major and minor league levels. With an All-Star and possible MVP candidate in Willson Contreras, the Cubs are trying find a backup for Contreras for the upcoming season. This spring training has seen prospect Victor Caratini battle with journeyman catcher Chris Gimenez for that spot for this season. With a week to go, there is still uncertainty about who is going to make the club.
When I start to think about who would be best for the spot, my mind starts to wander in a variety of ways. There’s the concept of what is best for the team versus what is best for the individual. Going in that direction, you have to think about whether playing once a rotation would be best for Victor Caratini and his development, or would he need to play two or three times a week. I think Gimenez might actually be more suited to that type of arrangement where he only has to play once every five days.
Then again, come the playoffs, do you want Gimenez exposed in a key situation/game or would you rather have Victor’s bat? This is an important way to look at the position for later in the year. In fact, this dilemma might not be solved until then. Who knows, maybe all three will be on the playoff roster. .
One could look at Victor as a high-value prospect to include in a trade. That he is. But what if something happens (God forbid) to Wilson or Gimenez this year. What does that leave you with. I don’t think Joe Maddon wants to pencil in journeymen every day. Joe’s going to want Victor to play as much as Wilson did. I like the idea of having Caratini around as an insurance plan. However, when you have that kind of bat with improving defensive skills, someone is going to want to acquire those talents in one player. The Cubs can probably hold them off for another year, but it’s not doing Victor any good just to use him as insurance in the prime of his career.
The Cubs do have some prospects in the minor leagues that might be better suited to be back up catchers in the long run. The problem is they are not ready yet. PJ Higgins will be at Tennessee this summer. He is very good defensively but he is still working to improve his offensive side of the game. Will Remillard might be the best hitting catcher but he missed 2 and 1/2 years after two Tommy John surgeries. He looked great on a rehab assignment in Eugene last fall and has been outstanding catching runners this spring according to the box scores by Arizona Phil at The Cub Reporter. Remillard should be at Myrtle Beach this spring.
In the end, the catcher that everybody’s going to be looking at in two-three years is going to be Miguel Amaya. He’s got a rifle for an arm and a potential power bat. Then again, Amaya’s not destined to be a backup either.
It should be interesting to see what the Cubs do here in the next week for the near future and how they deal with this issue this summer. My guess would be Victor goes down to Iowa, for the time being, until his talents are needed.
In the end, it’s a good problem to have. You know your team is doing well when you spend 626 words discussing the backup catcher and the implications for it years down the road.