What to Expect When You’re Expecting Miguel Amaya, Who Has Been Around Forever And Still Might Be a Mystery
Miguel Amaya was the first guy I ranked as the #1 Cubs prospect here as a writer at Bleacher Nation. I’d forgotten that, to be honest, when I found that now-four-year-old ranking after we heard news of Amaya’s emergency trip to D.C. last night, and a possible call-up that could follow. Miggy’s potential then, as a polished teenage catcher with a patient eye and budding power, was so much fun to dream on.
But as sometimes will happen with prospect dreams – not a lot went right in the years that followed. The COVID season came at a time when staff was convinced in Amaya’s pending breakout. A forearm strain in 2021 led to Tommy John surgery that ate up most of 2022. A Lisfranc fracture cost him the 2022-2023 offseason. Since closing shop on the 2019 season, Amaya has caught just twenty-three games.
The next game Amaya catches COULD come in the big leagues, as Amaya is reportedly joining the Cubs in case Yan Gomes has to head to the Injured List. If it happens, Amaya will make his Major League debut at age 24 and with just 349 games of stateside professional minor league experience. He’s both a guy that I’ve written about forever, and a guy whose current toolbox is still something of a mystery.
In a brief sample of games so far this season, Amaya has hit .273/.411/.659, with 17 strikeouts in 56 plate appearances. He’s seeing pitches and elevating the ball at career-high rates. The ability he’s shown to instantly shake off rust and get back to what he does well has been pretty incredible. And we’re seeing signs that development has occurred away from the field too, as he just completed the month with his highest ISO as a professional.
As someone who wrote more times than I can count about a belief in Amaya’s power potential, it’s been an exciting development. He’s clearly used his injury time well in the weight room, with a far stronger frame than he had back in 2019. His swing utilizes his hips so much better than it did back in those days, too, allowing him to access the power that was previously just something we saw in batting practice.
He’s also searching for the power more, cheating a little bit towards left and the left-center power alley, which probably accounts for some of the rise in strikeout rate. On film I’ve seen him get beat on good high fastballs and a slew of sliders, even though he’s better than average at seeing spin. Major League pitchers will use his patience against him, and there’s an adjustment decision to be had about whether to sacrifice some of his core plate approach to be more aggressive early in counts.
But that’s also probably overstating his role if he gets a cup of coffee this week, where he would be serving as Tucker Barnhart’s back-up catcher and (maybe) partial platoon partner. I have no doubt this experience – whether a call-up happens or it’s just a taxi squad type situation – will be a motivating one for a guy with a good work ethic that has desperately missed catching over the last few years. It’s where he’s most comfortable, and sitting in the game-planning meetings with the Cubs staff (Tommy Hottovy, Daniel Moskos, Craig Driver, etc.) will only help his long-term game calling.
In the past, I’ve heard about how Amaya’s energy provides a calming leadership to his pitchers from behind the plate. I liked the anecdote that Greg Huss shared from an old Jack Patterson interview about Amaya, particularly noting his strength at framing low pitches. I saw it on tape just last week:
Big league opponents will note that Amaya is just 3-of-22 in throwing out baserunners this year, after entering the season with a previously-fantastic 38% caught stealing rate. The Tommy John surgery will catch some blame there, though I’d note that on the film I watched, four of six stolen bases against him that I tracked didn’t even get draw a throw. One got a good one that was just late, but should have still been a caught stealing as the runner overslid the bag. We’re just going to need a larger sample to evaluate the current arm strength.
Amaya’s opportunity, if he is indeed called up, would be to plant a seed in David Ross’ mind for 2024. Amaya will be out of options then, and in the best scenario, will break camp in the Luis Torrens role and just not relinquish it. This season is about establishing a baseline of expectations moving forward, and this week could be about showing that he’ll be mentally prepared to handle the workload demanded of a Major League catcher. And if there’s one skill where I have some confidence, considering what he’s persevered through in the last three years, it’s Amaya’s mental readiness for a surprising call up.