I Could Not Be More Impressed By Miguel Amaya, Which Leads to Natural Questions

I have been so impressed by Chicago Cubs catching prospect Miguel Amaya this week.

Considering what he’s dealing with: it’s not just a call up to the big leagues, it’s not just a call up to the big leagues straight from Double-A, and it’s not just a call up from Double-A for a guy who has missed so much time the last three years, it’s all those things for a CATCHER. A guy whose primary job with this Cubs team is expected to be managing a pitching staff and ensuring maximum performance from a group of Major League pitchers he’s never worked with before!

Such an impressive young man, and to look the part so completely – as he clearly has – is something that has me feeling really good about the future of the Cubs catching position in 2024 and beyond if Amaya can stay healthy.

Consider what Hayden Wesneski said about his catcher yesterday:

That is EFFUSIVE praise. Frankly, I was surprised Amaya was starting yesterday’s game at all, given that you’re talking about a rookie pitcher who is still trying to find his own footing. Amaya had to catch him, and then also face the reigning dang Cy Young winner in Sandy Alcántara! That was a game I very much had pegged as a Tucker Barnhart start, so I think it says a lot about how the coaches and the organization feel about Amaya that he got that start.

Of course, Amaya was later pulled from the game for a pinch-running Seiya Suzuki (weird choice, to be honest), leaving Barnhart in to finish the game, which he did quite literally by striking out to end it.

That’s not me needlessly hammering Barnhart, who by all accounts is a very good teammate and does work very well with the pitchers. It’s just me noting how the duo of catchers stood out yesterday.

So, in turn, I know the immediate question that folks will have: when Yan Gomes returns this week, why not just let Barnhart go, and have Amaya stay on as the 1B to Gomes’s 1A catching job? It has to have crossed your mind.

Ultimately I’m going to tell you that I don’t think it will, or even necessarily should, happen right now. But not because I’m not loving how Amaya has looked as a catcher and as a disciplined hitter with power.

So far this year, Barnhart has hit an anemic .186/.234/.209/23 wRC+ at the plate. That, after a huge downturn in 2022 at the plate for the now 32-year-old, has you wondering if maybe this – or slightly better, but still awful – is just where the bat is now. By contrast, Amaya has looked capable at the plate in his early duties, and has hit very well at every stop in the minor leagues, including dominating at Double-A before his call up.

I’m hesitant to draw conclusions about performance based on such minuscule samples. But I’ll acknowledge that it’s entirely possible that Amaya is already, currently, a superior catching option for the 2023 Cubs than Barnhart, even accounting for the soft factors. We know the bat is superior. There’s just no way that’s going to be debatable. Receiving skills and defense? My eye says Amaya is probably on par with Barnhart, or at least in the ballpark. So the question is whether Barnhart’s work with the pitchers between starts, his game-calling skill, his ability to read batters and help the pitchers make in-game adjustments, and his general leadership/support of pitchers (the soft factors) is dramatically better than Amaya at the moment.

I think it’s possible that, even if Barnhart is currently better in those areas than Amaya, it isn’t enough to make up for the difference in the bats. It’s possible that Amaya, present day, helps the Cubs win more games than Barnhart.

But even if that’s true, that isn’t the only part of the calculus here on how to proceed with Amaya.

The Cubs could keep Amaya up as a third catcher, of course, but I tend to think they will want him making regular starts so his development work can continue (he has missed so much time, especially behind the plate, that he needs the regular work). If Amaya stays up as the third catcher AND is getting regular starts, well, then what is the point of keeping Barnhart? I just don’t think three catchers is the route the Cubs would go here in May. I think it is – for now – an either Amaya or Barnhart decision on the 26-man roster when Gomes returns.

If the Cubs were to let Barnhart go now, they lose him from the organization. I suppose he could come back later on if there’s no other gig out there for him, but he’d likely find a job elsewhere as depth – all while the Cubs pay him for both this and next year, at a $3.3 million AAV. If Barnhart is totally cooked, that wouldn’t much matter, but can we know for sure that’s the case? Are we sure that he’s not still very good at working with pitchers, and very good on defense? A guy you’d still like to have around?

I’m framing it like that because the Cubs *CAN* keep Amaya in the organization as a third catcher, even if he’s optioned to Triple-A Iowa after this stint. So if there is another catching injury in a week or three, the Cubs still have Amaya to backfill. If the Cubs instead kept Amaya up and sent Barnhart packing, and then there is an injury later on, they would be further tapping into depth that might be worse than Barnhart (currently, that would be veteran Dom Nuñez, who is not hitting well at all at Triple-A Iowa). Considering Gomes’s age and Amaya’s injury history, I definitely would have some reluctance about punting Barnhart this early in the season.

So, for me, that’s what it comes down to: I worry that, even if punting Barnhart this early could help the Cubs win an extra game or two in May, there’s a risk that it could cost them way more than that in June and beyond if there were a catcher injury or injuries. If it were July or August, maybe this conversation looks different. For now, I think it would be the best approach to let Amaya keep starting regularly and working with pitchers at Triple-A Iowa. You hang onto Barnhart and hope that (1) he can right the ship AT LEAST SLIGHTLY at the plate, and (2) his work with the pitching staff pays off in the long run as he gets more and more familiar with them.

A final thought that I offer NOT as a comparison between the players, but instead just as a note about how small-sample numbers can look really bad for veteran back-up catchers: David Ross hit .176/.267/.252/33 wRC+ in 2015, the first year of his two-year deal with the Cubs. He was 38 at that time, and definitely looked toast at the plate. But he still provided significant value behind the plate and in the clubhouse, and then wound up bouncing back offensively in 2016.

Hey, maybe we see a little bit of a repeat this time around? No, I’m not predicting a Barnhart bounce-back in 2024! I’m saying maybe Amaya goes back down for now, and then comes back up to stay in August and September as a third catcher, much like Willson Contreras did in 2016 with Ross and Miguel Montero.

written by

Brett Taylor is the Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and on LinkedIn here. Brett is also the founder of Bleacher Nation, which opened up shop in 2008 as an independent blog about the Chicago Cubs. Later growing to incorporate coverage of other Chicago sports, Bleacher Nation is now one of the largest regional sports blogs on the web.

more cubs news

The Cubs Are Testing the Limits of What is Predictable

When we talk, as fans, about how "predictable" some kind of bad outcome is, we aren't always talking about actual predictions. Or probabilities. Or anything with the full force of logic behind it. Instead, we're often being performatively dramatic in...

Enhanced Box Score: Giants 5, Cubs 4 – June 24, 2024

Incredible. Truly. It's going beyond the point of believability at this point. The Cubs blew YET ANOTHER save tonight. And this time, they did it by intentionally walking the bases loaded before walking in the game-winning run, just to ......

Dansby Swanson with Two Incredible Defensive Plays Tonight (And Justin Steele is Loving It)

Justin Steele is pitching really well tonight against the San Francisco Giants. But things would've have gone quite as smoothly so far if it weren't for Dansby Swanson. Not once, but TWICE tonight, Swanson has made a Gold Glove caliber...

Pre-Gamin’: Cubs at Giants (8:45 CT) – Lineups, Broadcast Info, Game Thread

CUBS LINEUP — The Cubs are starting a four-game, west-coast road trip tonight at Oracle Park. Justin Steele is on the mound for the Cubs, who are running out of time to turn this ship around before the trade deadline...

A West Coast Trip? Sure, Why Not … Cubs vs Giants Series Preview

Cubs vs Giants — In case you missed our earlier conversation, the Cubs upcoming stretch looks like their toughest of the year. And unfortunately, unless they start playing a lot better — immediately — this could be it for the...

An Incredible Week for Matt Shaw Means It’s Award Time

If you have seen Matt Shaw's name a lot this past week, it's because he's been lighting up the Southern League, even more than he already was. Thus, he gets some weekly award honors: https://twitter.com/smokiesbaseball/status/1805326329404870946 Shaw, 22, was the Cubs'...

The Second All-Star Ballot Update is Still Light on Chicago Cubs

Not that you'd expect otherwise at this point, but the Chicago Cubs are not running away with the fan voting for the 2024 position player All-Star starters. You have to go deep to find any Cubs names at all: https://twitter.com/MLB/status/1805286499128328237...

MLBits: Must Read on the Pitching Revolution, Mets, Cards, Kwan, More

MLB NOTES—Once in a while, you come across a story that's an absolute must-read. The Athletic's Andy McCullough delivered that for us this morning with his feature, which helps us understand the school of logic behind the pitching revolution in...

Cubs Farm Report | June 24, 2024: Shaw Blasts Two, Scary Collision, Just Missing Out, More

CUBS PROSPECTS — Matt Shaw blasted a pair of home runs, but a scary collision stole the show in a Tennessee loss that allowed Birmingham to take the first-half division title. Cubs Prospects Report | June 24, 2024 Triple-A Iowa...

He Has Work to Do For Sure, But Making Declarations About Pete Crow-Armstrong’s Offensive Future is Silly

I got pretty annoyed this weekend when I saw a bit from Bob Nightengale's latest: "MLB scouts have insisted all season that Chicago Cubs prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong may not be the impact bat that’s been hyped, and so far they’ve...

Latest News

Reds vs. Pirates Prediction: Expert Picks, Odds, Stats & Best Bets – Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Bryan Reynolds will look to extend his 21-game hitting streak when the Pittsburgh Pirates (37-41) take on the Cincinnati Reds (37-41). The Reds are listed as -128 favorites on the moneyline for the contest, which starts at 7:10 PM ET...

Phillies vs. Tigers Prediction: Expert Picks, Odds, Stats & Best Bets – Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Expect a pitchers' duel Tuesday when Ranger Suarez (1.75 ERA, first in MLB) and the Philadelphia Phillies (52-26) take on Tarik Skubal (2.50, seventh in MLB) and the Detroit Tigers (36-42). Suarez and the Phillies are -127 favorites on the...

Red Sox vs. Blue Jays Prediction: Expert Picks, Odds, Stats & Best Bets – Tuesday, June 25, 2024

The Boston Red Sox (43-36) hope to avoid an upset as -120 favorites when they take on Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (with homers in two straight contests) and the Toronto Blue Jays (35-43). First pitch is at 7:10 PM ET Tuesday,...

Yankees vs. Mets Prediction: Expert Picks, Odds, Stats & Best Bets – Tuesday, June 25, 2024

The New York Yankees (52-28) are set to take on the New York Mets (37-39) Tuesday at 7:10 PM ET, airing on SNY. The Yankees are listed as -145 favorites by sportsbooks, while the underdog Mets have +122 odds for...

Mariners vs. Rays Prediction: Expert Picks, Odds, Stats & Best Bets – Tuesday, June 25, 2024

The Tampa Bay Rays (39-40), led by Yandy Diaz on a 17-game hitting streak, will meet the Seattle Mariners (45-36) Tuesday at Tropicana Field. The Mariners are -127 favorites for the matchup, which starts at 6:50 PM ET on BSSUN.Luis...

Orioles vs. Guardians Prediction: Expert Picks, Odds, Stats & Best Bets – Tuesday, June 25, 2024

The Baltimore Orioles (49-29) host the Cleveland Guardians (50-26) at 6:35 PM ET Tuesday for a sluggers' duel between two of the best power hitters in MLB. For the favored Orioles (-148), Gunnar Henderson has racked up 24 homers this...

Braves vs. Cardinals Probable Starting Pitchers – June 25

The St. Louis Cardinals (40-37) bring a four-game winning streak into a contest against the Atlanta Braves (43-33) at 7:45 PM ET on Tuesday.This contest's pitching matchup is set, as the Braves will send Reynaldo Lopez (5-2) to the mound,...

Astros vs. Rockies Probable Starting Pitchers – June 25

After winning their past five games, the Houston Astros (38-40) host the Colorado Rockies (27-51) at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday at 8:10 PM ET.The Astros will call on Hunter Brown (4-5) versus the Rockies and Austin Gomber (1-4).Astros vs....

Royals vs. Marlins Probable Starting Pitchers – June 25

The Kansas City Royals (43-37) and the Miami Marlins (27-51) match up on Tuesday at 8:10 PM ET. The game will take place at Kauffman Stadium.The Royals will look to Seth Lugo (10-2) versus the Marlins and Yonny Chirinos.Royals vs....

Brewers vs. Rangers Probable Starting Pitchers – June 25

The Milwaukee Brewers (46-33) host the Texas Rangers (37-41) for a home game at American Family Field on Tuesday. First pitch is at 8:10 PM ET.The probable pitchers are Bryse Wilson (4-3) for the Brewers and Andrew Heaney (2-8) for...

more cubs news