Let’s get this out-of-the-way first. The Cubs have plenty of catchers. They have lots of depth up and down the system. The issue is that talent needs to shine both behind the plate and in the batter’s box. That did not happen so much at the upper levels of the system in 2021, but it sure did in the lower parts.
When it comes to ranking the top three catchers in the system, this was a pretty challenging endeavor. While one has an injury and will probably miss most of the year. The aforementioned injury creates a vacuum in the system that the others will probably fill. In fact, that vacuum could propel them up the system.
Let’s get to it
1A. Miguel Amaya
He has always been known as a good defender with a great arm. The issue has always been the bat. Last year, a forearm strain caused Amaya to miss the last 3 and 1/2 months of the season. It was hoped that he could return to Tennessee, produce at the plate, and be in Iowa by the Fourth of July. That did not happen. In fact, he underwent TJS a little over a week ago and now will miss most of 2022. This injury could be a game changer for Amaya and the Cubs, especially with Willson Contreras entering his last year of his contract. It just throws Amaya off his development timetable and it could end up with the Cubs making other plans.
1B. Casey Opitz
I love to watch Opitz catch. In addition to having a great arm, he calls a great game, and he manages the strike zone with his glove and he is an excellent framer. If the Cubs are trying to develop his bat in 2022, he’s going to be suitable fairly quick. He should start 2022 at South Bend and could move fairly quickly in 2022 as there is no big-time prospect between him and Iowa at the time. Amaya’s injury and subsequent surgery really has made a way for Opitz to move quickly through. Opitz is never going to be an All-Star for his bat alone but he’s going to be fired up every day to run the game from behind the plate and to win.
3. Pablo Aliendo
Pablo Aliendo will be at South Bend to start the year. Baseball America rated him as one of the top defenders in the system. His bat took a huge leap forward in 2021 and he will have a Herculean task next summer to improve at South Bend. He is going to be fine defensively, the bat will have to play. He struggled a bit at South Bend in just 15 games. I wouldn’t hold him to those stats or worry about them in the slightest. He really wore down as the season came to a conclusion. That first full year can really take a toll physically. Hopefully, he’s learned from that experience and is getting ready to maintain himself for a 140 games.
The Other Contenders
Bryce Windham is back to catching. I love all that Bryce does on a baseball field. He should be at Tennessee to start the year and with no Amaya, Bryce’s experience with some of the pitchers could pay huge dividends next summer for them and for him.
If the Cubs need a backup catcher at some point next summer, Erick Castillo or Tyler Payne could get the call. However, I really like what Tim Susnara does behind the plate and in the batter’s box. He was actually really good for Tennessee last summer (.241 BA/.706 OPS) and was one of the biggest surprises in the system. Not bad for a free agent find.
It is unclear where Ethan Hearn is going to be to start 2022 as it all comes down to how his bat is progressing during spring training.
Teenager Ronnier Quintero should be at Myrtle Beach to begin 2022. Quintero’s already been working hard getting his body ready for 140 game grind. Miguel Fabrizio could be next year‘s breakout hitter of the year. He destroyed the Arizona Complex League but hitting over .370 and got a cup of coffee in Myrtle Beach. He was also named an Arizona Complex League All-Star and I’m excited to see what he can do in a full season spot. As for Malcolm Quintero, he’s another guy that was outstanding last summer in Arizona and could be in Myrtle Beach where I don’t know how they will get everyone enough ABs, although Fabrizio probably will play more 1B as he started to do so more in 2021.
The wildcard is Adan Sanchez. He is really a mystery because we don’t know where the Cubs are going to have the 2022 international free agent play next year – will it be 3B or behind the plate? With his bat, they may play him all over every three days, including 1B and DH. More than likely, Sanchez will be in the DSL unless that bat is really advanced. Then we could see him in Arizona.
If one or two of these guys take a step forward next summer, this position is going to shoot up the rankings in the Cubs system.