3. P.J. Higgins – Catcher
P.J. Higgins is a catcher who was drafted in the 12th round and had been working his way up the ladder through the once-vaunted Cubs’ farm system. Last year he made it to Iowa and through two levels put up a .765 OPS with a career-high of 10 home runs.
The 26th man rule on MLB rosters this year creates a lot of flexibility for how that last spot can be used. Higgins can easily make the team as the third catcher and was having a lovely spring trying to convince the decision-makers to take a chance on him. He was slashing .320/.469/.600 in 17 games with two home runs.
The problem for Higgins is that he is currently fourth on the depth chart; it appears. Willson Contreras and Victor Caratini will be behind the dish for a majority of the year, and Josh Phegley is also in spring camp trying to gain a roster spot. Phegley has big league time with the White Sox and Oakland Athletics, and the experience factor presumably puts him over Higgins.
Higgins is getting closer and closer to the Majors, and it appears as if he will get a shot eventually if an injury occurs. His minor league slash line is .272/.357/.367, so he gets on base enough to be productive as a Major League hitter. Maybe the most eye-opening thing about Higgins’ spring is that he’s walked seven times and struck out only five. The Cubs could always use more contact, especially amongst bench players.
Higgins saw time behind the plate and at every infield position besides shortstop in 2019, and he fits the Cubs preference for utility players. With Ben Zobrist retiring, the Cubs could use another utility player to fill that role.
The Cubs don’t usually have rookies on Opening Day rosters, and Higgins wouldn’t be the exception, but they could enforce the service-time rule with Higgins and keep him down in the minors until early May, or at this point – whenever the season starts. The odds are Higgins stays down at Triple-A Iowa until he is needed due to injury or other unsatisfactory performance on the Major League roster.
The bottom line is that Higgins keeps getting better each year, and fans should be rooting for him to get a shot at the Friendly Confines sometime this summer. Descalso’s leash should be short, and if that’s true, the door opens wide for guys like Higgins.