Miguel Amaya’s Impressive Physical Development Could Determine Willson Contreras’ Future with Cubs

First, let me acknowledge that Willson Contreras is one of the most athletic and best-hitting catchers in Major League Baseball. But even his stout lower half can’t match the thiccness of 21-year-old Miguel Amaya, who driving doubles and launching homers as if he’s on a Little League diamond. Amaya’s impressive 2019 season and the growth, both literal and developmental, he displayed this year could signal a trip to Wrigley as soon as this summer.

Amaya started the 2019 season in A+ as a 19-year-old and ended his year there with a strikeout rate under 17% (MLB average is ~24%), a walk rate of 13% (MLB average is ~9%), and wRC+ of 122. Although the Cubs’ top catching prospect didn’t play organized games outside of the Cubs’ South Bend camp during the regular season in 2020 due to the pandemic, he is getting the chance to showcase his development in the Puerto Rican Winter League.

Playing against competition four years his senior on average, Amaya entered Sunday’s game with a .333 batting average and three extra base hits (two doubles, homer) in 23 plate appearances. Then he added the grand slam you see above.

“Miguel took huge strides at the alternate site in all areas of his development and grew significantly as a player and leader,” Cubs VP of development Matt Dorey told The Athletic. “We are extremely proud of how he approached his daily routine to become more consistent on both sides of the ball.”

The offense is going to get more social media engagement, but an organization has to weigh a lot more than just home runs when evaluating a catcher. In that regard, Amaya’s work behind the plate may be even more impressive than what he’s done at it.

“Miguel openly challenged himself to become a more consistent receiver and game caller entering camp and left having made significant improvements in both of these areas,” Dorey said. “He has always had plus natural instincts, tools and skill for the position but took impressive strides in all of the finer points and nuances that the position demands — communication, leadership and ultimately prioritizing winning each pitch with his focus and intent for whoever was on the mound that day.”

With all reports indicating the Cubs are serious about having no untouchable players, you have to wonder what Amaya’s obvious potential means for Contreras this year and beyond.

Contreras is under team control through 2022 and should continue to improve upon or at least maintain his career 116 wRC+ and what has become top-tier pitch framing. But he will turn 29 this coming May and few catchers sustain the ability to mash well into their 30’s. That’s just an unfortunate reality that is admittedly hard for me to accept.

So, then, should the Cubs shop the energetic Contreras this offseason since Amaya seems to have made developmental strides? I imagine there could be scenarios in which a trade makes sense. Now, let me be clear, suggesting the Cubs trade their All-Star catcher just because Amaya’s legs are thicc is a bit preposterous. But Amaya’s status does have to be factored among a myriad of other logical reasons.

First, the Cubs are clearly strapped for money. Trading Contreras would free up around $5-7 million for 2021 and perhaps over $10 million for ’22. Second, this era of the Cubs core is coming to a screeching halt with nearly everyone due for free agency in the next two seasons. Some of those players may be extended, but will this front office prioritize a catcher heading into his 30’s over Kris Bryant, Javy Báez, or Captain Anthony Rizzo? Third, Contreras is the most appealing trade candidate of the group due to the extra year of control and strong showing in the shortened season.

Still, it’s also possible that the best path forward is keeping Contreras while letting Amaya play at the big league level. There’s enough room for two catchers and there could be even more if the NL implements the DH, though that still hasn’t been settled as of the time of this writing.

What is for sure, though, is that Amaya is growing before our eyes and could force this front office to play him as soon as this season. I’m ready.

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