Allow me to preface this post with a caveat: I have no “sources” in the Chicago Cubs organization (though you can feel free to shoot me an email if you’d like to become a “source” – there’s no recompense of any kind, but you’ll get to see your name in lights … as “source”).
That said, there is reason to believe that Cubs backup catcher Koyie Hill is not long for the club. Here’s the logic: recently, starting catcher Geovany Soto was placed on the disabled list with a slight sprain in his right shoulder. In a corresponding move, the Cubs called up 23-year-old catching prospect Welington Castillo to take Soto’s roster spot, and split time behind the plate with Hill in Soto’s absence.
Meanwhile, and behind the scenes, the Cubs promoted Robinson Chirinos – arguably the team’s best, albeit oldest, catching prospect – to AAA Iowa, to work behind the plate with Castillo gone.
Why is this remarkable? Well Soto is going to be back soon, and when he comes back, the Cubs will have to move out one of their catchers. Most likely, it’ll be Castillo. But sending Castillo back to Iowa would create a bit of a catching conundrum, with the Cubs’ top two catching prospects both on the same team.
Is it possible that, instead, the Cubs are planning to transition Castillo onto the big team as Soto’s full-time back-up, and are therefore planning to give Koyie Hill the boot? Consider, Hill has never offered very much in the way of offense as a backup. He’s a free agent at the end of the year, and it’s hard to imagine the Cubs bringing him back unless they have no other option to back-up Soto. What better way to find out whether you have a solid backup than to let one of the young kids serve in the role for the last couple of months of the season?
One thing to keep in mind before jumping to any of the conclusions I’m sheparding you toward: ML rosters expand on September 1. That means anyone on the 40-man roster at that time can be up with the big club, and the Cubs could very well let Castillo and Chirinos split time at Iowa for the next few weeks, before calling Castillo back up (or Chirinos, for that matter). It’s also possible that the Cubs don’t expect Soto to return from the DL when his stint is up next week.
Ultimately, it’s unlikely that the Cubs would dump Hill in order to avoid three weeks of organizational discomfort in Iowa. But the fact that they promoted Chirinos – knowing that Castillo would be back to claim his spot in just a couple weeks – instead of letting someone like Steve Clevenger work some time in Iowa is, at the very least, strange. For more on the various Cubs catchers, read our Prospect Primer on Castillo, Chirinos, and Clevenger.