Barring the addition of a few more roster spots or an experiment that sees them carrying five catchers, Miguel Amaya never had a shot at breaking camp with the Cubs. That had nothing to do with pure talent, as David Ross explained Tuesday, and everything to do with ensuring that Amaya has time to develop that talent to the fullest extent.
“I told him, I said, ‘You could back up in the big leagues right now with your catching ability, catch and throw,'” Ross told reporters in Mesa. “I said, ‘But, I think you’ve got higher goals than that.’ I think he’s going to be a real impact catcher at some point in the Major Leagues.”
That’s only slightly higher praise than Amaya earned from Keith Law, who described the 21-year-old catcher ($) as “adequate behind the plate, enough to stay there with the potential to get to average.” If that’s what he thinks of a prospect he ranked No. 3 in the Cubs system, I’d hate to read what he say about someone who didn’t make the list at all. To be fair, the respected evaluator went on to say that Amaya has All-Star potential with a little more maturity and polish.
Amaya was optioned to Double-A Tennessee Tuesday, a wholly unsurprising move that came as the Cubs cut their spring roster down to 44 players. Playing in a more hitter-friendly environment should boost his numbers, especially with the power that really haven’t shown up yet. Amaya already has excellent on-base and contact skills, increasing his walk rate significantly over each of the last three seasons while decrease his strikeout rate in the same fashion.
Turning some more of that high contact rate into hard contact is going to be the real key when it comes to receiving his first in-season promotion. As for the defense and the way he handles a staff, though, there’s never been much of a question. Well, not for anyone other than Law. The young backstop is wise beyond the years and sometimes knows his pitchers better than they know themselves.
“He’s been so solid for me behind the plate,” righty Scott Effross gushed about his Arizona Fall League battery-mate. “I think I could talk about him for a while but he is so advanced for his for his age. He’s just such a good catcher and he takes it so seriously back there. He’s been great for me.
“I ask him all the time, ‘Hey, Miggy, you see anything like I’m pulling off or whatever?’ And he’ll let me know and it’s impressive that he can do that, not only having English as a second language, but being 20 years old.”
That sounds like a guy who’s already well beyond adequate, though Amaya does still have a long way to go before he’s ready for prime time. Then again, the jump from Double-A to the bigs isn’t actually that broad. Not that the Cubs are likely to ask him to make it, blessed as they are with enviable catching depth in the majors. In addition to obvious roster picks Willson Contreras and Victor Caratini, Ross is considering the inclusion of more seasoned third-more stringer Josh Phegley.
Throw in PJ Higgins, who is more coveted for his utility skills than as a full-time catcher, and the organization is than comfortable letting Amaya marinate for a while. However, all bets are off once 2021 rolls around. If, that is, Amaya can show he’s capable of the kind of consistent offensive production required of an everyday starter.