Last season, the Chicago Cubs ended up with one of the best backup catchers in the league in Dioner Navarro. After Navarro scored a free agent deal with Toronto in the off-season, the Cubs brought in George Kottaras to replace him. He was released on March 26, as the Cubs decided to enter the season with Welington Castillo and John Baker as his backup.
Fast forward to June, and the Cubs are without Castillo who is on the 15-day DL with a sore rib cage. To fill the roster spot, the Cubs called up Eli Whiteside, opting to leave their younger catchers down to get at-bats. Now the Cubs have signed veteran Yorvit Torrealba to a minor-league deal.
So while Baker is the number two behind the plate now, is there someone more capable to back up Castillo?
Baker at the plate has been a non-factor, with a slash of .154/.211/.185. He’s credited as a good defensive catcher, and he has only allowed one passed ball this year. But he’s caught only 5% of would-be base stealers. Part of that can be attributed to the Cubs pitching staff’s inability to hold runners. But the bottom line is besides catching the pitch, Baker isn’t getting it done.
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The call-up of Eli Whiteside isn’t necessarily indicative of the fact he deserved a promotion. The Cubs didn’t want to use an option on one of their younger catchers, and they needed another catcher. With a line of .171/.235/295 at Iowa, and is without a hit since joining the Cubs. Whiteside was simply a stopgap solution. The Torrealba signing likely removes him from that position, and likely his time as a Cub.
Luis Flores is the “veteran” of the youngsters at Iowa. He’s carrying a slash of .270/.465/.351 with one home run and seven RBIs. He’s thrown out 30% of base runners attempting to steal, down from his career average of 38%. But those are still quality numbers behind the dish.
Rafael Lopez represents the “wild card” of the bunch. Between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa, he’s carrying a line of .299/.407/.470. Since being promoted to Iowa he’s matched Flores’ home run and RBI totals in only 17 plate appearances. It’s not unusual for players from Double-A to make the jump to the Majors and be successful. Although he’s seen a few at-bats in Iowa, seeign him make the jump this year wouldn’t be surprising, but still unlikely.
The signing of Torrealba signals the Cubs weren’t happy with the depth, but also aren’t ready to call up Lopez or Flores. Torrealba has hit .256/.315/.379 with 56 home runs over his 13-year career. At 35, he is simply helping the Cubs with a depth issue and prolonging his career. That simple. He will likely see himself inserted at the back-up position while Castillo is out, and may be able to bump Baker as well.