Cubs Den Top Prospect Audit: Catcher
today at 1:59 pm
Fans with even a mild interest in the farm system will be familiar with 20-year old Miguel Amaya. He’s hovered at the back of national Top 100 prospect lists the past two seasons. There is still a lot of inconsistency with his offensive game, and the occasional lapses on defense, but he is very polished for a player his age. He was added to the 40-man roster this offseason and is slated to open the year in AA. It may take a couple of seasons before Amaya is ready for a full-time starter role in Chicago, but he is a high floor prospect, with above average power and arm strength. He isn’t the explosive athlete that Willson Contreras is, but his overall defensive game should grade out average or better across the board.
The Cubs aggressively added talent at the catcher position last summer, something they hadn’t done since signing Amaya and Henderson Perez to seven figure deals as part of the 2015 IFA class. The biggest prize was 17-year old Ronnier Quintero, who agreed to a $2.9M deal out of the Dominican Republic last July. That is slightly more than the Cubs allocated to Eloy Jimenez back in 2013. Quintero is not considered quite the same caliber of prospect, but was rated the top catcher in the class, with the potential for plus power and hit tool from the left side. His defense is expected to be a question, but the arm is there, and the bat could carry him at 1B if he needs to move out from behind the plate.
Some scouts love new Cubs catcher Ronnier Quintero, a 17-year-old out of Venezuela.
He’s got an advanced ability to drive the ball and PLENTY of strength.
— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) December 5, 2019
The team did not stop with the top catcher on the IFA market though. They also added the top rated prep catcher in the 2019 Amateur Draft. Ethan Hearn is another left-handed power bat with a plus arm. While Quintero projects toward an all-around offensive impact, Hearn is considered to have a power-over-hit profile. He struggled to make contact in his pro debut last summer, striking out in roughly a third of his plate appearances, but don’t freak out regarding a less than 100 plate appearance sample size as an 18-year old.
Two words: Pop. Times.
— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) January 27, 2019
P.J. Higgins is a potential 26th man with the versatility to fill in at the infield corners (and even 2B in a pinch) who could factor into the MLB roster in 2020. It is difficult to consider Higgins a prospect in the classic sense because of his age (27 in May). That places him already at or on the downside of his physical peak, so there is little or no projection remaining. Fans have gotten a good taste of what he brings to the table this spring. There isn’t much impact to his offensive game, but few hitters in the system have a more consistent approach at the plate on a game-by-game basis.
A contact hitter at the plate, with a strong arm behind it, Jhonny Pereda has the skillset to play in the Majors. His his swing is geared for the opposite field, limiting his power, but he did make great strides with his plate discipline in 2019 which helps round out his offensive skillset a bit. He’ll need to prove that development can stick against AAA/MLB pitchers who won’t necessarily be afraid of making mistakes to him. If he can do that (and earn the trust of a pitching staff), Pereda could eventually become a full-time MLB backup. More likely he tops out as a 3rd catcher and AAA shuttle player.
Below Miguel Amaya at AA, there is a gap in the pipeline until you get to the short season levels. This shouldn’t be an issue given the age, cost control and depth they have at the upper levels but it points to why the Cubs were so keen on restocking the position in the 2019 IFA and Amateur Drafts. If a breakthrough from anyone occurs at South Bend or Myrtle Beach this year, it may end up being from a position player convert. A darkhorse name that intrigues me is Bryce Windham, a utility man from they picked up in the 32nd round last June, who began the conversion process in the AZL while producing loud numbers at the plate. He played all over the field for Old Dominion, showing range and arm strength at multiple positions.
Range. For. DAYS!
Old Dominion’s Bryce Windham
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) April 30, 2017
Henderson Perez was signed to higher bonus ($1.25M) in the same IFA class as Miguel Amaya ($1M). While Amaya has taken off, Perez has stalled in the AZL. I haven’t been able to see him play, so it is difficult for me to gauge if there is still reason for hope. There never seems to be any buzz about him coming out of that league, which isn’t a good sign, but catchers can take a long time to develop. Perez figures to get his first look in Eugene this year.
Quintero received the IFA headlines last summer but the Cubs made a second significant IFA investment to Brayan Altuve. Rather than the classic power profile for a catcher, Altuve is considered a plus athlete, and not just plus “for a catcher.” Even more rare, he supposedly possesses plus speed. The Cubs inked him to a $1M deal and I can’t help but flash to a young Jason Kendall when I read his scouting reports. We can hope.