Before the offseason began, catcher was probably the position at which the Cubs were most set in terms of being able to help the big league club in 2021 if needed. That changed quite a bit last week with Victor Caratini going to the Padres. Jed Hoyer has said they’ll bring in a veteran to back up Willson Contreras and to spell him occasionally, but the Cubs definitely have catchers in the minors to get the job done if needed.
It starts in Iowa, where the versatile P.J. Higgins could serve as a third catcher and also play every infield position other than shortstop. But let’s be honest here, everyone’s waiting to see what the Cubs are going to do with Miguel Amaya.
The 21-year-old from Panama is one of the Cubs’ top-ranked prospects and has been lauded for his game-calling skills and defense by every pitcher that works with him. He also has the potential to hit for power and a decent average, something he’s been showing in the Domincan Winter League.
Amaya had a great first half at South Bend in 2018 before injuries to the catching corps caused him to catch almost every game for about a six week period in July and early August. He was worn down to a nub and his production at the plate proved it. Then he moved on to the Carolina League, which is not conducive to any hitter, and managed to put up a 122 wRC+ with the wind blowing in every day.
We asked a scout to analyze Cubs catcher Miguel Amaya.
He thinks Amaya could reach 25-homer potential in the big leagues.
— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) April 10, 2020
Amaya will again be in spring training again with the Cubs and will see a fair bit of action in preseason games. From there, he’ll probably start the season at Double-A Tennessee in order to continue his growth as a hitter. His bat is probably not ready for the Triple-A experience as the pitchers there are much more advanced than what he’s seen to this point.
With the trade of Caratini, where would you like to see top catching prospect Miguel Amaya begin his 2021 season?
— Todd ⚾️🐻 (@CubsCentral08) January 1, 2021
For now, it’s really about getting Amaya’s bat to catch up to his glove and figuring out which place is the best to get that done. The level doesn’t really matter because the Cubs could call him up from either and have shown a willingness to do that in the past with top prospects. He’s got the skill to be an everyday catcher right now, it’s just a matter of ensuring his hitting is ready.
Beyond those two that would be able to help at some point this year, the rest of the system is a mixed bag with a lot of star power in the rookie leagues and A-ball.
Cam Balego began converting to catcher in 2018 at South Bend before minor injuries derailed that plan for a little bit. He caught at Myrtle Beach for a little bit and then wound up playing a lot of first and third, then was back to catching again this past spring. Balego has great bat-to-ball skills and was one of the breakout players in the system for 2019.
His 125 wRC+ was tops for the Pelicans, keyed by 12 homers in a place known for keeping the ball inside the fence. Whether he can do that it at Double-A remains to be seen, but his work ethic and hand-eye coordination point to it being a possibility.
We debuted some new segments on last week’s pod episode, including Our Guys. The first player I wanted to highlight was Cam Balego because he’s been so under-the-radar over the last year!https://t.co/YCOIZ23jDF pic.twitter.com/RhPVk6NpkP
— Greg Huss (@OutOfTheVines) August 16, 2020
The Cubs took catchers Bryce Windham and Jake Washer in the latter half of the 2019 draft and I really like both of them. Windham is an amazing athlete who also played second base and centerfield for Old Dominion, and he can handle a stick pretty well even though he doesn’t have a lot of power. Washer does have some serious power and I was really looking forward to seeing them both at low-A South Bend in 2020. I’m leaning towards both of them starting at South Bend, which is now high-A in 2021 and I would not be surprised to see both of them in the lineup even when they are not catching.
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 3, 2019
The two big names in the lower part of the system are Ethan Hearn and Ronnier Quintero. Matt Dorey Cubs VP of player development, raves about Hearn’s physicality and his defense, mainly his arm. The bat and approach is still a little bit lagging, but he will only be 20 years old when next season starts. He would have been at Eugene last year had there been a season, so he likely begins at low-A Myrtle Beach.
As for Quintero, I just love this kid’s swing. It’s smooth and effortless, generating such easy power for someone who’s still just getting started as a pro. He will be just 19 when the next season begins and will probably be at Myrtle Beach, or he could begin the year at extended spring training and come up in the middle of the year.
Some scouts love new Cubs catcher Ronnier Quintero, a 17-year-old out of Venezuela.
He's got an advanced ability to drive the ball and PLENTY of strength.
— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) December 5, 2019
The Cubs also signed catcher Brayan Altuve to a deal in the same international class at Quintero. Some believe Altuve will eventually move off the position, possibly to second base or center field. Considering the depth the Cubs have at catcher, Altuve’s athleticism could be the key to his development and moving up the system.
When international free agency officially opens, the Cubs are going to add another top catching prospect in Moses Ballesteros from Venezuela. He’s kind of a pudgy kid who likes to hit home runs and he could debut in Mesa next summer as well.
Trading Caratini certainly hurt the Cubs’ depth at the top, but there’s plenty of talent moving up through the system. And if Amaya develops the way everyone seems to believe he can, that depth could be very valuable in other ways.
Check out our other organizational breakdowns