Victor Caratini is one of the more interesting Cubs prospects in a long time – at least, from a case study perspective.
As a 23-year-old switch-hitting catcher, Caratini hit Triple-A for the first time in 2017 … and he immediately dominated. In his 83 total games (326 plate appearances), Caratini slashed .342/.393/.558 (142 wRC+), with plenty of power (.216), patience (8.3 BB%), and no signs of being overmatched (14.7 K%).
And, again, he was just 23 years old (not too old for the level), a catcher (premium position), and a switch-hitter, who could also play first or third base in a pinch. So … why aren’t Cubs fans extremely stoked on him?
Well, for one, Caratini wasn’t drafted by the Cubs, he was taken by the Braves in the second round of the 2013 draft (where he was a top ten prospect for a while), before being traded to the Cubs in the Emilio Bonifacio/James Russell trade back in 2014. He hasn’t quite been obsessively in our minds in the same way as some other prospects.
For another, he hit Double-A (where he’d normally get a lot more attention) the year the Cubs won the World Series, and his *real* breakout only happened this past season, long after the COOKIES! wave of prospects arrived in Chicago.
And, of course, with a young catcher like Willson Contreras holding down the big league starting job, it’s not like Cubs fans are screaming for the catcher of the future.
But, still, the Cubs have a (now) 24-year-old switch-hitting catcher, who can play multiple positions, and has already succeeded immensely at the Triple-A level – the dude deserves some recognition right? Right:
#Cubs' Victor Caratini absolutely raked for @IowaCubs (.342/.393/.558) before making his @MLB debut last year. He's No. 10 on our 2018 Top 10 Catching Prospects list: https://t.co/rifU0qzBQD pic.twitter.com/RDMzCke4k9
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) January 18, 2018
Caratini was recently ranked as the 10th best catching prospect in all of baseball by MLB Pipeline, which is not only a nice honor for him, but also a really nice look for the Cubs’ organization as a whole (not that looks matter more than production, but the league-wide perception of a prospect/player is certainly important).
Caratini didn’t lead any of the individual top tools (best hitter, power, runner, etc), but he does figure to be one of just a few players who’ll actually contribute to his Major League team as soon as this season.
Caratini has already made his big league debut, even if he retains prospect eligibility. He joined the Cubs for a brief stint in June, and was up and down throughout the rest of the season, before being a permanent call-up in September. Overall, his 66-PA debut wasn’t great, though it did feature a .333 OBP and a sub-20% K rate in very limited, unpredictable exposure, and his gap power figures to play at the Major League level once he gets established.
But will he be the Cubs’ singular backup catcher this season? Well, Jim Callis (MLB Pipeline) seems to think so – and I certainly hope he plays well enough to merit it (we’ll get to that in a minute) – but I’m still not sure that it’ll happen. If this were any other offseason, and the Cubs still hadn’t added a backup catcher to replace Rene Rivera/Alex Avila/Miguel Montero, I’d say, “Duh, it’s going to be Caratini,” but as we know, the offseason isn’t over yet. And while Caratini could do well, a free agent veteran like Alex Avila, whose bat is more of a sure thing and whose experience can help guide Contreras through yet another year of simultaneous growth and contention, seems to make more sense to this front office.
But again, I see the value in Caratini. If the Cubs paired him up with Contreras, they may miss out on some growth and experienced leadership, but would gain some serious versatility. Like we discussed, Caratini isn’t just a switch hitter, he’s also capable of backing up the corner infield spots. For a manager like Joe Maddon, I’m guessing the prospect of having three switch-hitters (Ian Happ, Ben Zobrist, and Victor Caratini) to go with three players capable of catching (the right-handed Contreras, the switch-hitting Caratini, and the left-handed Kyle Schwarber), and a backup catcher who can cover elsewhere is downright salivating. I’m not sure it’s the way the Cubs will go, but it’s far from a bad backup-backup plan.
In any case, it’s great to see Caratini get some league-wide recognition, and I’d expect to see more of him throughout the season one way or another. He’s got talent and time on his side, which means the Cubs have one more valuable youngster.