On July 31, 2014, Victor Caratini’s career with the Chicago Cubs began. At the time, Caratini was rated the number 8 prospect in the Atlanta Braves’ system. A switch hitter, he was drafted in the second round of the 2013 MLB draft. Originally a third baseman, Caratini moved to catcher and had only 70 games under his belt when he came to the Cubs. Traded for James Russell and Emilio Bonafacio, many scouts praised his bat and his line drive hitting skills.
Caratini was assigned to the Cubs low-A team at Kane County. I saw him in his third game and he did OK at the plate, but I didn’t see anything that stood out. Yet, every scout that saw him raved about his bat. Here is his low-A GM from the Rome Braves describing Caratini shortly after the trade:
Jed Hoyer said the following when Caratini was acquired:
“He’s a guy that we liked in the draft a lot. We’ve said all along, catching is a weakness in our system. We don’t have enough of it. To get a guy that is a switch-hit catcher, knows the strike zone well, has performed well. We liked him in the draft and our pro scouts like him and he comes at a position where we know it’s a weakness in the organization, so we’re excited to get him.”
In 14 games last August at Kane County, Caratini hit .264 with 13 RBIs and wound up with a .277 average on the year. I was missing what others claimed to see. He had a nice balanced swing from the left, but there wasn’t anything that jumped out to me.
Coming into 2015, I though Caratini would be assigned to Myrtle Beach and he was. MLB.com originally ranked him in the top 20 Cubs prospects. Here’s what MLB.com wrote on him:
He’s a safer bet to catch than Schwarber or Zagunis, though Caratini is far from a finished product behind the plate. His to-do list includes softening his hands, improving his throwing accuracy, refining his blocking skills and adding strength to better handle the physical demands of the position. His Plan B is third base, where he’s a capable defender with a strong arm.
And in April of this year, I still didn’t see it. In fact, I was beginning to get suspicious. For the month Caratini was not good at the plate. He hit .204 with 8 RBIs and only 4 walks for an OBP of .278 in 14 games.
In early May, I began to see something, but it was not at the plate. It was as a leader behind the plate. He looked like he was running the team. He was in charge behind out there, encouraging pitchers to focus, stay on top, helping get them out of jams and adjust to high-A ball. During April and May, the Pelicans were 21-6 when Caratini caught.
Sometimes, a player can be so focused on one aspect of their game that it detracts from the other. I thought, “Maybe this what was happening to Caratini.”
About halfway through May, I finally began to see what all the fuss was about – Caratini began to hit. And he hasn’t stopped since. In his last ten games through Friday, he is batting .306 with 5 BBs for an OBP of .404. I have seen several games on MiLB.TV and he looks very patient at the plate. He doesn’t try to do too much, just square up the ball and put it in play.
Here is a short video of Caratini’s swing from the right.
To get a better grasp on Caratini, I interviewed Nathan Barnett, the play-by play announcer of the Pelicans. He graciously offered up a unique perspective of Caratini and his skills.
Here are 10 things you need to know about Caratini with Nathan’s key points in bold.
- Patient approach: As a hitter, Caratini knows what he is looking for and what to do with certain pitches.
- Better from the left side: Barnett felt that Caratini’s hit tool plays better from the left. The stats concur as Caratini is only batting .216 against lefties. However, he looks really smooth in his swing and his feet keep him well-balanced.
- Pitchers love pitching to him: See reasons listed below.
- Blocks balls in the dirt: Not many things get by Caratini. Baseball Reference lists him with only 3 errors (throwing or passed balls) in 33 games behind the dish.
- Great makeup: Barnett spoke at length about the positive and tough attitude that Caratini has and how coachable he is.
- Works hard: People rave about Caratini’s work ethic and all he does in order to get ready to catch.
- Solid Arm: Caratini’s arm may well be strong enough to play at the next level
- Needs quickness in throw: If Caratini could improve on anything, it would be a quicker release as he sometimes takes too long of a path to release the ball.
- 11 men thrown out/26%: On Friday, Caratini threw out a baserunner trying to steal. In fact, he has caught 26% of runners according to Baseball Reference.
- Might Be the Best Defender in the Cubs System: Manager Mark Johnson raves about Caratini and Nathan believes Caratini might be the best defender in the Cubs’ system. Nathan believes he has shown immense growth in just the two months this year at high-A.
On Friday afternoon, the Pelicans played at 4pm CST. It was nice to watch Caratini catch; his skills were quite evident behind the plate. Watching him working on framing Duane Underwood, Jr.’s fastball was great, as Underwood’s pitches have such movement. He caught Underwood’s curveballs easily. He also got after his pitcher to keep the ball down and to stay on top of his curve. Underwood’s slider was a disaster; the few times it was thrown, it swerved wildly out of the zone but Caratini caught it every time. Nothing was going to get by him.
In an interview with the Chicago Baseball Museum last year, current Myrtle Beach Manager Mark Johnson said this of Caratini and his skills:
“He squats well, he moves well. He has a good left hand. There will always be tweaks (physically and mechanical). You have to run a staff, call a game, follow a game plan. Having the aptitude to be able to do that is the next question. He has that. His ceiling is up there. He has some serious upside. I think we’re in a good position with Victor.”
I try to keep an open mind about prospects. They develop at such different paces. Sometimes it takes a couple years to break out.
As Barnett explained, Caratini is developing well, but you may not always see it in a box score.
In fact, Caratini was much better yesterday than I remember at Kane County. To me he looks relaxed behind the plate. Better yet, he looks in charge.