A position-by-position organizational review is something I've been planning for awhile and you convinced me last week to do a depth chart rather than a strict rankings list -- though we'll do a top 20 at the end of this all.
The idea of the depth chart works better on a few levels. One is that the Cubs system itself is so much deeper and we can talk about a multitude of players at nearly any position. Another is that it gives you a point of comparison at players who are at the same position. And a third is that I will try to organize this into those who are top prospects and possible starters and those who project more as role players. That's often a point of contention when we do top prospect lists. Where do you rank guys who have a high probability of making it to the bigs but have a limited ceiling as opposed to guys with a very high level of risk but also a high ceiling? It's just not very easy to do in list format.
We hope these depth charts make that a little easier. We're going to start with the catchers, which is actually the position of least depth in the Cubs organization, so in some ways, this may be the most challenging piece of the series.
Catcher is one of the more difficult positions to fill. Players like Buster Posey, who can hit for average, power, catch, throw, and manage a game are extremely rare. In the absence of that type of player, you often have to limit your skill set to one of the following...
- A game manager who can catch and throw -- but may give you minimal offense
- A guy who has some offensive potential but may not be able to stick at the position
- The conversion. An athletic, instinctive player who can give you some intriguing tools you may not find in your everyday catching prospect, but who is also raw and will need development.
The Cubs old regime preferred the 3rd strategy and those players are currently among the team's best prospects. The new regime seems to like the idea as well, switching now top catching prospect Willson Contreras from the OF/IF and also have put some thought into converting hit machine Stephen Bruno to the position. Bruno is the kind of athletic, instinctive player that can adapt quickly to a new position. I do not know at this time if the Cubs plan to continue with this experiment.
Because complete catchers like Posey are rare, what you hope to get out of any starting catcher is to get a few good everyday skills. A common place to start on offense is power, while defensively you'd like a guy who can control the running game. Those work as starting points because those two traits tend to develop heavily on a player's natural ability. The hope then is that you can develop him into a catcher who can receive well and manage the game behind the plate. If you have those combination of skills at anywhere from average to above average to plus, you are ahead of most of the game when it comes to starting catchers around the league.
Castillo is the Cubs major league starter and still it's best and most talented long term player at the position. He falls under the 3rd category as he is a converted 3rd baseman. Castillo's main asset defensively is his ability to move well behind the plate and a rocket arm he can use to control the running game. Fangraphs currently has an above average defensive rating for him, so he has come a long way in that respect, especially in regard to nuances such as framing pitches. On offense he may not hit for average, but he has shown he can take a walk after his hacktastic start to the season. He's hitting a respectable .270 with around a league average .339 OBP. What's been missing this year has been the power, but most think Castillo can be a 15 HR guy. In just over 700 AAA PAs (617 ABs), he has hit 34 HRs, so the power is there, but Castillo has just hit 3 HRs, slugged .367, and has a well-below average ISO of .096.
If he can tap into that natural power while retaining the rest of his skill set, the Cubs will be set at the position for the next 5-6 years at minimum.
Willson Contreras, 21, 6'1, 175 lbs. Kane County Cougars (A)
Contreras is another converted player. He had played 3B and some OF until last season, but the Cubs decided to try him at catcher. I got my first good look at Contreras during instruct where his quickness behind the plate and strong arm easily stood out among the catchers doing drills that day. He was the guy you couldn't stop watching. Contreras is a hard-worker who plays the game with intensity, displaying a fiery competitiveness that can sometimes get the best of him. He's a good kid, though. He's a warrior out on the field but you may also find him handing out baseballs to little kids or having fun with teammates. I've also seen him channel that competitiveness into leadership, once admonishing a teammate for dogging a play -- in practice. The key for Contreras is to channel that consistently and hopefully translate taht intensity and his well-above average athleticism for a catcher into a player the Cubs can someday count on on an everyday basis. Besides his quickness and arm strength, Contreras has tools as a hitter as well. He has strong wrists and the quick bat to handle above average velocity easily. He has shown power this season, hitting 10 HRs and rasing his ISO% over last season by almost 100 points (.084 to .183). He has also learned to be more disciplined at the plate, raising his walk rate to 6.8% from 4.1% last year -- though that discipline has wavered. At times, he has returned to his more hacktastic habits -- at other times he has been about as patient as some of the other hitters on what is a very disciplined Kane County team. The key for Contreras is to keep working hard to develop his impressive tools into consistency on the field. He has made a lot of mistakes as a catcher, which is to be expected considering his limited experience at the position. He also needs to channel his natural competitiveness and use them to lead his team.
Others to Watch/Role Players:
Rafael Lopez, 25, 5'9", 190 lbs., Tennessee (AA)
Lopez is also a converted catcher. He switched back at Florida State, where he played his first couple of years as a 2B. As you might expect, Lopez moves well behind the plate and has solid catch and throw skills. He's also learned how to manage a game behind the plate, so much so that the Cubs entrusted a lot of work to him this past spring training despite him not having played above A ball. He's holding his own offensively at Tennessee with a line of .250/.346/.425. Despite his small stature, he has a bit of pop to go with his solid approach at the plate. His size and age (he'll be 26 in October) limit his upside and we're probably already seeing something close to what Lopez will be right now. He can make an ideal backup catcher given his skill set.
Chadd Krist, 23, 5'11", 190, Daytona (A+)
Krist is the first "true" catcher on this list, having been known for his advanced game management and catch and throw skills from the time he was drafted in the 9th round out of California in 2012. He's more athletic than given credit for and though he started out hitting well last season in Boise and the past two seasons in the Midwest League, Krist's bat profiles more as a backup catcher. His best asset as a hitter is his plate discipline and he's hitting .233/.337/.334 on the season at advanced A Daytona.
Carlos Escobar, 22, 6'3", 200 lbs., Kane County (A)
Escobar is not like the previous two catchers in that he's a big catcher with a strong frame. But despite his size, he's also known more for his defensive skills and natural leadership ability. He's currently Contreras' understudy at Kane and he complements his more raw teammates' skills quite well. Escobar can sometimes have a rather long swing but he does make solid contact when he does connect. However, he will need more consistency with that swing as he moves up and faces better pitching.
Will Remillard, 20, 6'1", 195 lbs. (Has not played)
Remillard was drafted in the 19th round, but was a late riser and earned an overslot $150K bonus after a strong showing playing with wood bats in the Cape Cod League. Remillard has good bat speed and some loft to his swing, which bodes well for his ability to hit for some power. Unlike the next catchers on this list, he has a better than average chance of sticking there. He's a solid receiver with a strong arm and quick release on his throws. So he fits that profile of a catcher who eventually supplies a little power on offense, controls the running game, and could hopefully develop into a game manager as well.
Have bat, may travel:
Justin Marra, 20, 5'10", 185 lbs., Boise (Short Season A)
Marra has a very good approach at the plate and may be the best natural hitter on this list but lacks the athleticism and defensive tools that the previous catchers on this list have. He doesn't have an ideal baseball body and he's been cursed with nagging injuries in his young career, so there's a lot of development time that has been missed. He'll need to catch up quickly.
Cael Brockmeyer, 21, 6'5", 235 lbs. Boise (Short Season A)
The Cubs 15th round pick this year, Brockmeyer is a big kid who has a good approach and can hit a little despite a long swing -- but needs some work behind the plate. As you might expect from someone his size, he's not exactly cat-like back there but he's better than you might think. Whether that's good enough remains to be seen. He has a strong arm but the release is a bit long for a catcher at this point. He's been playing mostly 1B or DH but he may get a chance to work on his catching skills in instructs.
Tyler Alamo, 18, 6'3", 200 lbs., Arizona (Rookie League)
Alamo is another big kid who has some bat potential but like Brockemeyer, his swing tends to get a bit long. He does have some raw power and some arm strength, so perhaps the Cubs are hoping he can fit that mold of catcher who can get you some pop with the bat and control the running game, but he has a lot of work to do behind the plate to stick at catcher.
Filed under: 2013 position-by-position depth charts