Welcome to Cubs Insider’s yearly positional breakdown of the minor-league system. Over the next two months, each position will be analyzed and five prospects at those positions will be ranked and profiled.
A lot has changed in the last year. The Cubs traded away their top prospect, Gleyber Torres, along with Rashad Crawford to acquire closer Aroldis Chapman. First baseman Dan Vogelbach and pitcher Paul Blackburn were traded for a man who was arguably the Cubs’ best relief pitcher in the World Series, lefty Mike Montgomery. Those four prospects were a small price to pay for a World Series trophy, but they significantly depleted a very strong minor league talent pool.
Combine that with not having a first or second round pick in the draft, and the Cubs aren’t quite where they’ve been over the past few years. While there are still some great prospects, the farm system is rather young and is still in need of development. They have depth and redundancy at every position but there is still a lot of work to do across the board.
When it comes to catchers, Willson Contreras is the man when it comes to catching for the foreseeable future. But nothing is ever set in stone and the Cubs do have some competition to keep Contreras on his toes or to provide support should it be required.
In ranking the catcher position, I split the analysis between offense and the defense. If it was just offense, Victor Caratini would win going away. If it was just defense, P.J. Higgins would dominate. Combining both aspects makes for an interesting discussion of value when it comes to determining who can help the Cubs at the next level and in what capacity.
5) Michael Cruz – Like the #3 catcher on our list, this kid came into the system and began to hit immediately. The power took a little bit to come around, but by the end of the year, Cruz showed why the Cubs selected him in the 2016 draft. 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 could be the perfect landing spot to open the 2017 season.
4) Cael Brockmeyer – At every level he has been to in the Cubs system, pitchers love pitching to this guy. The 6’5” backstop still managed to 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. Simply put, Brockmeyer is a leader among leaders. He hits more for average than power, but his bat was a little off-kilter last year as he shuttled between three levels. After hitting .317 in just under 20 games at Tennessee, he struggled some in just over 30 games at AAA. I like Brockmeyer as a backup catcher at the next level and think he could see some time in Chicago before Caratini just because he is more suited for that role and could slide easily into being a team player in a bench role.
3) Ian Rice – Power. Rice has it in spades and he brought it to the table this year at South Bend and Myrtle Beach. For the year, Rice hit 15 HR’s in 97 games between the two levels. He also showed the ability to get on base (.380), which is a big plus. On the other hand, he did not actually catch much. I sometimes wonder if Rice is going to be shifted to first base and I think we’ll learn more this spring, as 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.
2) Victor Caratini – 2017 was Caratini’s best season as a Cubs prospect. He hit .291 on at AA Tennessee and displayed a little power at the plate. He worked on improving his defense in the Arizona Fall League with designs on replacing Miguel Montero as the backup catcher in Chicago come 2018. I even think Caratini might get a look this year if there is an injury to either Montero or Contreras. At the same time, I would not be surprised if the Cubs went out and got an emergency backup just so Caratini can have a full year at AAA.
1) P.J. Higgins – In his first full year of catching, Higgins showed off a laser-rocket arm 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 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 all you really need in a backup catcher role is solid defense. In that vein, Higgins has the potential (key word) to approach the impact David Ross was able to have with his arm.
There are other catchers to keep an eye on, including Tyler Alamo, Sam Tidaback, Tyler Payne, Gioskar Amaya, and Albert Mineo. The dark horse to watch might be the return of Will Remillard, who is returning to action after missing each of the past two seasons due to back-to-back Tommy John surgeries.