After today’s surprising George Kottaras release, Rick Renteria told the media that non-roster invitee John Baker will be the Chicago Cubs’ backup catcher heading into the season. Baker simply won the job over Kottaras and Eli Whiteside, who will stay with the organization and head to Iowa, presumably as the third catcher.
Among Renteria’s praise of Baker, he liked the “well-roundedness” of Baker’s game, per Bruce Miles. That’s probably a nod toward Baker’s defensive skills, which are believed to be quite good. And, as much as I’m disappointed by the Kottaras news, I do recognize that backup catchers are mostly kept around for their defensive value (and rightly so, given the limited starts and relatively limited offensive upside). Also, for all we know, Baker is fantastic with pitchers and fantastic with Welington Castillo. Development remains the priority this year.
That said, don’t expect too much offense from Baker, who bats lefty. His career line is actually rather nice for a backup catcher - .258/.342/.364 – but it’s been considerably down in the last four years: .219/.301/.259. The numbers haven’t been much better in the minors, either. On the Spring, Baker is hitting .292/.292/.417 over 24 plate appearances.
At least Baker takes a lot of walks – his walk rate is consistently over 10% – and he’s got a career .727 OPS against righties. The splits aren’t great in the last few years, but the sample sizes are SO small that it’s hard to glean too much from them.
In the end, Baker is probably better than Koyie Hill offensively, and he’s got a good glove. The front office and coaching staff got a long time to evaluate him this Spring, and they clearly liked what he saw. So he’s the guy.
As a second “in the end,” the Cubs are obviously looking for Welington Castillo to really step it up this year and take on the vast majority of the starts. Hopefully, with some luck and health, there won’t be many backup starts to go around anyway.