Though trades and free agency tend to dominate the headlines this time of year, the “Organizational Breakdown” series is a staple of Cubs Insider’s offseason coverage. In the past, I broke down the Cubs minor league system by ranking the top prospects at each position. This year, rather than just simply ranking players, I decided to do something a little different.
The main reason for the change in direction is that the Cubs will be turning the roster over quite a bit the next two years. With very few integral players signed beyond 2021, not even a willingness to spend stupid money in free agency could fill all the gaps. That means the Cubs will have to lean on the minor league system to produce impact players. So this series will look at who is most likely to help the big league club over the next couple of years.
First up is a look at the catchers making their way through the minors.
Most likely to succeed
This is probably the worst kept secret in the system, as Miguel Amaya is now looming on the horizon. After a successful 2019 that saw him put up a 122 wRC+ at Myrtle Beach, Amaya went to the Arizona Fall League and was named the best defender in the league by MLB.com’s Jim Callis.
The 20-year-old catcher drew praise from his battery-mates, including righty Scott Effross, who raved about Amaya’s maturity behind the plate in an interview with CI’s Evan Altman. Amaya will only be 21 when the 2020 season starts, so a big league arrival date sometime in 2021 is very realistic. If he shows up at Tennessee this spring and rips the cover off the ball, that timing may need to be reconsidered. Now that he’s on the 40-man roster, he will be in spring training with the big boys and will gain valuable experience.
Off day in the @MLBazFallLeague today, so here’s some explosive BP footage of #Cubs catcher Miguel Amaya yesterday. Signed for $1.25 mil out of Panamá in 2015; he is BUILT at just 20-years-old, grades well behind the plate and has upside with the bat 💥⚾️💥 @mamaya_9 pic.twitter.com/JbtYAKJnFc
— Jacob Zweiback (@TheReelJZ) October 17, 2019
Most likely to arrive in 2020
This one comes with a hefty caveat, as PJ Higgins was not protected on the 40-man and could be plucked away in the Rule 5 Draft. He certainly has the most advanced bat of any Cubs catcher at the upper levels and has a good pop time when it comes to getting rid of the ball from behind the plate.
Higgins can also play three other infield positions and could be a candidate to be the 26th man at some point next summer. While that seems like someone the Cubs could really use, other teams might feel the same way.
Down the road
The Cubs loaded up on young catching last summer in the draft and in international free agency, keeping the pipeline full. They took Ethan Hearn, the top-ranked high school catcher, in the sixth round and gave him an above-slot bonus. Hearn struggled in 23 games with rookie-league Mesa, striking out over 40% of the time. Then again, he also showed he can hit the ball with power.
On the international side of things, the Cubs signed Ronnier Quintero out of Venezuela. His left-handed swing is one of the sweetest I’ve seen in a while (see video in second tweet below) and he could really turn into something.
Official signing bonus for Ronnier Quintero: $2.9 million
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) July 2, 2019
Most likely to surprise this year
The Cubs have been on this kick the past few years of drafting players out of Old Dominion. Last year‘s selection was utilityman Bryce Windham, who played all over in college. The Cubs focused on transitioning him to catching last summer at Mesa, where he hit .325 with a .459 OBP while posting a 150 wRC+ in 35 games. That’s pretty solid at any level.
Windham may have the hang of catching enough to make his way to South Bend to start 2020. You’re going to notice the bat first, so we’ll see how he handles the pitching staff later.
There are others throughout the system, but these are the names to watch for now. Truth be told, most don’t matter if Amaya ends up being the dude everyone believes he can be.