The Chicago Cubs could get their primary backup catcher back as early as Thursday, which has a waterfall effect when it comes to the team’s roster.
Longtime Triple-A backstop Taylor Davis could see his time with the Chicago Cubs draw to a close, at least in the interim, despite his excellent work behind the dish over the last month or so. Why? Because Victor Caratini recovered more quickly than expected from his broken hamate bone and could come off the IL as early as Thursday.
In particular, Davis seemed to gel with right-hander Yu Darvish during his time with the big league club. The duo worked together in Wednesday’s extra-inning loss, which marked Darvish’s best outing as a Cub. The hurler tossed 5 1/3 innings, striking out 11. More importantly, he did not walk a single Cincinnati batter.
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"“They communicate well,” Joe Maddon told MLB.com. “They’ve been communicating well, and Taylor’s really a wonderful student. And I just watch them interact. Part of it, quite frankly, is we’ve got to give Willson a day off, too, so it’s just worked out well that these two guys seem to have hit it off.”"
The real difference between Davis and Caratini comes at the dish. The latter hit .571 in a half dozen contests prior to hitting the IL. Despite his clutch grand slam, Davis is just a .200/.294/.400 hitter this season in the same number of games – which is good for an 82 OPS+.
Whether it’s Caratini or Davis, neither guy is ever going to be the team’s starting backstop. That role falls squarely on the shoulders of Willson Contreras, who entered Wednesday’s game as a pinch hitter late, grounding out on the first pitch he saw and stranding the go-ahead run at third.
But all told, Contreras has played very well this season, building on his first All-Star selection from last season. The Chicago backstop owns a 1.015 OPS – thanks to what would be a career-best .605 slugging percentage and .410 on-base percentage.
He jumped out to a hot start in 2018, as well, but went into a tailspin down the stretch. More than a few pundits believe his workload proved to be too much over the grind of a full season, making the backup catcher role more critical than ever. I was part of the group that anticipated the team would go out and get a veteran backstop – but instead, they decided to roll the dice with Caratini.
Now, make no mistake. Victor Caratini isn’t going to keep hitting as he did in early April. That’s not sustainable or even remotely reasonable to expect. But that’s not to say he can’t give Maddon quality at-bats and innings behind the dish – allowing Contreras to stay fresh down the stretch.
That’s the endgame here. Prevent a second consecutive burnout of the team’s primary receiver – a guy who has helped carry the offense for nearly two months now and has all the signs of ascending to the top of the catching ranks in Major League Baseball.