When looking at the Cubs minor league organization as a whole, we see a very deep system. When looking at the catchers, though, we don’t see that depth. In fact, we don’t see much at all. Catcher was the only position that did not appear in the Bleacher Nation Top 40, and not one catcher in the system was particularly close to making that list.
But the situation may not be quite as bad as it appears at first glance. Catchers are generally among the slowest developing prospects, and, while the Cubs lack any good catching prospects today, the system does have a number of players with potential who could develop into that status. Even so, there is nothing comparable to Almora and Baez behind the plate anywhere in the farm system. The catching crop today is a very sparse crop indeed.
The best of the field might be Chadd Krist. He is certainly one of the best defensive catchers in the organization, and, while his batting stats in the low levels of the system were not particularly impressive for a hitter drafted out of college, they weren’t bad either. He doesn’t look like a high average guy, but I think he has the potential to emerge as a Koyie Hill with better defense and more power. (Ed. – Note, that’s intended as a compliment.)
Rafael Lopez got some at bats with the major league team in Spring Training this year, but he’ll hit Tennessee for the first time this year in his age 25 season. Barring a tremendous breakout, he looks more like organizational filler at this stage.
At the younger end of the spectrum we have Justin Marra, Willson Contreras, and Carlos Escobar. These three were all teenagers in Boise last season, and all three could appear in Boise or Kane County this year. I like the potential in all three, but all three are years away from the majors.
And that just about covers the system. Michael Brenly, if he can improve his defense a little, looks like a possible major league backup and should see some at bats in Iowa. Micah Gibbs is an excellent defensive catcher, but so far his switch hitting has not translated to the professional game. Taylor Davis has looked good at times, but I right now I don’t see much major league potential there. There has been talk of moving one or more of the Cubs excess of infielders behind the plate, but I don’t think we need to give that much credence until it happens over a sustained stretch.
Fortunately, the Cubs have time to let their youngest crop of catchers develop. Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger just reached the majors last season; if they work out the Cubs should have young, cost controlled catchers for a few years yet.
Meanwhile, although the catching picture is bleak, first base offers plenty to get excited about.
Josh Vitters posted a career year as one of the youngest players in Triple A last season, and his lack of a glove could yet push him to first base full time. Joining Vitters in Iowa will likely be two more big first base bats – Greg Rohan and Justin Bour. Rohan is a right handed slugging utility guy who can play corner anything and has hit at every level where he has been given a chance. Bour is a huge left handed masher who was a walking RBI machine in Tennessee last season. None of these guys are likely to challenge Rizzo for the major league job long-term, but any of them could ably hold the position down for a week or two should Rizzo wind up on the DL one day.
Deeper in the system we find Paul Hoilman and Dustin Geiger, two sluggers who have shown flashes of potential in A ball. Geiger (who has also played some third) probably has more power than he is generally given credit for; keep an eye him.
Still lower in the system we find Rock Shoulders. His bat is not as awesome as his name, but so far this 1B/OF has hit well enough to keep him on my radar. Trevor Gretzky was extremely raw last year, but there is a lot of projectable power in his frame. He should get a chance to play everyday (probably in Boise) this season and could easily be one this year’s low-level breakouts.
There are plenty of other players who could have plenty of potential at the plate and who could be forced to first base for defensive reasons (Jeimer Candelario, for example). Until that crop plays their way over to first, though, I will continue to note them at their current positions.
And then we have Dan Vogelbach. Any discussion of the best bats in the farm system has to include Vogelbach. He has a chance to hit for prodigious power as well as for average, and there is very little chance of him moving off first base. He is still a few years away, but it is possible that one of these days the Cubs will have to pick between Rizzo and Vogelbach. That is not a bad thing in the slightest.