When Theo Epstein took over, the Cubs system was bereft of catchers. Six years later, it is now a position of strength at almost every level. This year saw two catchers promoted to Chicago and fill in at the major league level very admirably. Victor Caratini and Taylor Davis both provided support in a time of need. Although neither made the playoff roster, both helped the Cubs make the playoffs in one way or another.
With Willson Contreras entrenched as the primary backstop and both Alex Avila and René Rivera likely gone as free agents, Caratini could earn a reserve role next spring in Mesa. However, I think Joe Maddon would be more comfortable with a veteran backup catcher on the roster.
Should that be the case one again, it’s possible Caratini would provide more value to the Cubs in terms of what he could bring back. Not that they’re in any hurry to part with him, but there is no shortage of young catchers ready to step up and fill the void.
Let’s have a look at the position as a whole and how its depth has shifted over the last year within the organization.
Last year’s catcher rankings:
1. PJ Higgins
2. Victor Caratini
3. Ian Rice
4. Cael Brockmeyer
5. Michael Cruz
Heading into 2018:
1. Victor Caratini
There is nothing left for him to prove at AAA Iowa. His bat is more than ready, it’s more about improving his defense. And that can be done at the MLB level just as well as it can at Iowa.
2. Miguel Amaya
Even though he will be only 19 next year, he shoots up to number two on this list just based upon his arm. He still needs to improve on blocking pitches and settling his pitchers down, which should come with maturity. His bat improved greatly last summer, especially when he moved down in the order to the seventh spot, and he hit almost .300 in August.
3. Ian Rice
You have to love his bat, you just have to. However, I am beginning to wonder where that bat is going to play. Rice will be at AAA in 2018, or at least he should be; it depends on what the Cubs are going to do with Caratini. I would love to see Rice hit 25 home runs in the PCL next summer, as he is more than capable of doing that and getting on base at a .350-.375 clip. I love his power and approach at the plate and he is one of the hitters I most look forward to seeing in 2018, I just don’t know how much longer he’s going to be a catcher with that kind of production and discipline.
4. PJ Higgins
He is the best all-around defensive catcher in the system, but his offense deteriorated at Myrtle Beach last year. That’s the case for many players in the Carolina League, so Higgins should rebound and hit better at AA Tennessee in the more hitter-friendly Southern League.
5. Will Remillard
I was so happy to see him back playing last year. The fact that he did so well after missing nearly three full seasons is a testament to his work ethic and his skills as a hitter and catcher. When I first saw Remillard at Kane County in 2014, I was extremely impressed with his natural leadership ability. He hit .474 at Eugene the last month of the 2017 in what amounted to a rehab stint. Now 25 years old, he could be anywhere from South Bend to Tennessee next season; I think the higher the class, the better. One thing is for sure, his bat is going to make some noise wherever he goes.
Two to watch in 2018
Alexander Guerra is a 21-year-old catcher who last played in the Serie Nacional in Cuba. He’s a little bit more advanced than your average draft pick or international free agent, and it would not surprise me to see him stay in extended spring or break camp with either South Bend or Myrtle Beach. He has some pretty good size and I wonder if that translates to power in the United States.
Don’t sleep on Marcus Mastrobuoni, who may have been playing above his level last year. As a result, 2018 will be more indicative of his talents. Right now, his hit skill is more advanced than previously thought.