For a few years, the Cubs’ minor league catching corps was ranked pretty high in comparison to the other positions in the system. However, things shifted greatly in 2021 and even bigger changes are afoot in the coming year. After trying to rehab what was being called a forearm injury, top catching prospect Miguel Amaya wound up having elbow reconstruction early this month.
He missed all but about a month of this past season and will likely miss most of 2022, opening a path for several players who might otherwise have been blocked. How the Cubs go about assigning their various catchers will be something to watch for as spring training winds down.
The Cubs DFA’d and then re-signed both Erick Castillo and Tyler Payne to minor league contracts. Both were free agents and another year gives them another very good shot at the major league level, particularly with the way the Cubs have gone through backups. The Cubs also re-signed PJ Higgins, who had Tommy John late last spring and could be ready to go by spring training.
Considering he made the MLB roster coming out of camp in ’21, Higgins’ bat could differentiate him from his peers if he’s indeed healthy. Having the DH might give him a little extra room even if the elbow isn’t ready to handle catching duties right away.
What will be fun to watch here is that one of the catchers probably should be playing all over the field. Bryce Windham is always making the right choice at the right time regardless of position and he actually played quite a bit of second base for South Bend. He was back to catching full-time in late September and his bat was outstanding as he hit .317 with a 142 wRC+ after June 1.
We’ll see how long that goes, especially since the Cubs also have Tim Susnara and/or Harrison Wenson slated to be at Tennessee. It could get a little crowded behind the plate unless Windham plays all over the field again or Susnara heads to Iowa.
Good stuff from Bryce Windham pic.twitter.com/CAkR0zPaFR
— TheBullpen🐾 (@RealCubsAnalyst) May 31, 2021
Even though he ended the year at Iowa for a week, this is probably where Casey Opitz will start 2022. Personally, I’d like to see them fast-track him to Tennessee right out of the gate because he’s good enough behind the plate to play in the majors right now.
— Myrtle Beach Pelicans (@Pelicanbaseball) September 19, 2021
Pablo Aliendo is going to be in South Bend to start the year after getting a cup of coffee there at the end of last season. He was outstanding for Myrtle Beach, displaying an excellent feel for the game. He might try to do a little too much sometimes, but that’s okay when you consider that he just turned 20. He wore down a little in the last month of the season, so this winter is all about weight training to help keep his body at full strength for 140 games.
Pablo Aliendo is red hot. pic.twitter.com/IxZs326vrC
— Itsacon (@thats_so_cub) June 16, 2021
Ethan Hearn should probably open the season here as he might benefit from staying at Low-A for a little more seasoning, though I doubt the Cubs will agree. His actions behind the plate are just fine, it is his high strikeout rate that needs some work.
Even if Hearn moves up, it’s going to be pretty crowded behind the plate in South Carolina. Malcolm Quintero (146 wRC+) tore it up at the plate last year in Mesa and Miguel Fabrizio (166 wRC+) did the same to earn an All-Star nod in the Arizona Complex League after playing most of his games at first base. I would not be surprised to see either of them play plenty at the corner to keep their bat in the lineup on an everyday basis.
The player everybody’s going to be watching is Ronnier Quintero, who debuted last year in Mesa after signing as an international free agent in 2019. After dealing with some deep personal loss in the off-season, Quintero got a late start to the year. I love his swing that generates easy power and he should be ready for a full season, but he could start the season in Mesa depending on how things break.
Catcher Moises Ballesteros could take the ACL by storm. The 17-year-old looks to be a natural hitter as he hit .266 with a .396 OBP and 128 wRC+ in the Dominican Summer League. Ballesteros came stateside in November for a strength and conditioning camp in Mesa and could use that experience to springboard onto the scene.
Moises Ballesteros dinger in EXST
Nice relaxing swing
— TheBullpen🐾 (@RealCubsAnalyst) July 3, 2021
The Cubs have no shortage of backstops, now it’s just a matter of seeing how they’re going to find playing time for everybody. Just having depth isn’t enough, though, as the organization really needs to have some of these prospects take a leap forward in terms of production. With Willson Contreras in the final year of his contract and Amaya out for the year after very limited experience the past two seasons, there’s some real urgency when it comes to developing catchers.