This is great news for the Chicago Cubs, and it has nothing to do with Kyle Schwarber. This is about Willson Contreras and the man who may join him next season, Victor Caratini.
The young Willson Contreras made an impression in his first at-bat for the Chicago Cubs, hitting a home run on his very first swing. With Miguel Montero‘s ailing back, Contreras stuck his foot in the door and then swung it open, remaining in Chicago for the duration of the season. Now, he’s taken over as the No. 1 catcher with the veteran Montero as his backup. So who’s next in line? The young Victor Caratini.
This is one of the Theo Epstein deals that may fly under the radar but looks very good with each passing year. In July of 2014, the Cubs dealt Emilio Bonifacio and James Russell to the Atlanta Braves for Caratini and cash considerations. Bonifacio may have used up the rest of his “good days” in Chicago. Russell returned as a free agent to the Cubs in 2015 but was released at the end of the year. A short stay in Philadelphia didn’t go well and now he’s landed in Cleveland. Caratini continues to make strides and gets closer to Chicago each day, making the Cubs look like the winner in that deal.
After a slow start with the Cubs in the minors in 2015, he turned it around in 2016. He was a mid and postseason All-Star for the Smokies, batting .291 with 25 doubles with a .375 on-base and a .405 slugging. And while he’s shown the ability to hit, his defense remains a question. He’s a more refined option than Schwarber, but he’s still unrefined. The positive for Caratini is he has played the corner infield spots. We know how Joe Maddon loves versatility.
A solid insurance policy for Montero
As a switch-hitting catcher, it would be hard to imagine him as a platoon guy behind the plate. He also lacks power, but that’s something the Cubs can work on him with this season, likely n Triple-A Iowa. Contreras has a firm hold on the starting job. But if Montero’s back is an issue again this season, Caratini offers a quality backup to support Contreras.
It’s been a strong start for Caratini this spring at the plate. In his four games, he’s gone 4-for-9 with two doubles and a RBI. And he’s also been solid behind the plate so far, showing some good quickness and awareness.
For the last two seasons, the Cubs didn’t PLAN on calling up a catcher. But each year, they’ve done exactly that. And they’re 2-for-2 so far with Contreras and Schwarber. Is it possible Caratini could make it a perfect trifecta? Much of that will fall back on Montero’s health this season. But it’s another storyline to keep an eye on in 2017.