So, what are the Cubs doing here? The tl;dr version? Hoping Victor Caratini all of a sudden turns into a solid defensive catcher, or really has a great bounce back season on offense because the Cubs don’t seem to want to improve their backup catcher spot.
It’s not like I was knocking down Theo’s door and demanding he go out and sign Yasmani Grandal, or go and make a trade for J.T. Realmuto. I still like Willson Contreras very much and truly believe his offensive decline in the second half of 2018 had a lot to do with the fact he caught the most innings in MLB.
Of course, Contreras isn’t perfect, no player is, and while fatigue has been attributed for his offensive decline in the final months of the 2018 season, there’s also reason to believe his poor pitch framing was affected by being worn down as well.
So, it’s pretty simple going forward, right? Give Contreras more rest throughout the season, which should lead to better results, and preferably sign a defensive catcher, who you trust can really handle the pitching staff.
Well, pitchers and catchers are about to have their first workout in Mesa for the start of spring training and it pretty much seems like the plan is to have Victor Caratini as the backup catcher.
Fine, I guess. Well, not really.
Caratini finished 2018, with a .232/.293/.304, slash line in 200 plate appearances. After the all-star break, Caratini only had a .523 OPS. And here’s the thing, no one expects him to hit .300, or slug for a high percentage, but his numbers at the major league level simply haven’t been good. It’s more of a problem because Caratini is supposed to be an offensive hitting catcher, meaning he’s not a defensive specialist at all.
It’s acceptable if you can’t hit as a catcher as long as you’re a stud behind the dish. So far Caratini hasn’t done enough to give fans much confidence that he can be a solid backup for Contreras.
Yet, as more veteran catchers get signed off the free agent market, Caratini being the backup in 2019 is becoming more of a reality.
The dream outcome for Cubs fans this offseason was getting Martin Maldonado, who caught 41 games for the Astros in 2018. The nine-year veteran only has a career .639 OPS, but obviously Cubs fans don’t want him because of the bat, Maldonado is regarded as a very good defensive catcher.
Hey, I guess there’s a little bit of hope for Maldonado, as he’s still unsigned, but there haven’t been any reports linking the Cubs to him or any other free agent catcher.
Anyway, besides Contreras and Caratini, the Cubs have Taylor Davis as their third catcher on the 40-man roster. The team recently announced their non-roster invitees to spring training, which included three other catchers: Francisco Arica, P.J. Higgins and Ian Rice.
Arcia, a left-handed hitter, had six home runs and put up a .653 OPS in 103 at-bats for the Angels last season. Higgins was drafted by the Cubs in 2015, and reached Double-A in 2018, posting a .617 OPS in 41 games with the Tennessee Smokies. Rice was also drafted by the Cubs in 2015, and he had a solid .787 OPS in nearly 300 plate appearances at Double-A last year.
The Cubs are banking on several guys to have bounce back seasons after a terrible offensive year collectively in 2018, and that includes Caratini, who’s in position to have another crack at the backup catcher position even though that decision for now doesn’t exude much confidence.