Organizational Depth Chart: The Catchers

Organizational Depth Chart: The Catchers

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.

Current Starter:

Welington Castillo

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.

Potential Starters:

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.


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    Good first thought when I saw the title was "This won't take long...".......

    Pitching and Catcher are our top needs...and we're addressing pitcher. I don't think we have a future ML starting catcher in system if Castillo fades or gets hurt

  • In reply to Zonk:

    I thought it would be a good place to start since I can explain what I'm trying to do with this series. It's a good test as far as my own depth when it comes to prospect knowledge!

    I think Contreras and maybe Remillard have starter potential. We forget that Castillo was every bit as raw as Contreras at the same stage. He had some pretty lean years on offense and defense until late in his minor league career. Hard to believe now that some, including the Rays and Rangers, thought that Robinson Chirinos was the better prospect of the two.

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    Shorter version: we really need to draft a catcher in the top 2 rounds next year.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Not necessarily. I think by the time you get outside of the first half of the first round, it's really a crapshoot with catchers. Anyone you pick at that point is going to have missing skills.

    Catcher may come from Latin America or perhaps another conversion project.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    You're obviously correct.

    If Alex Jackson is sitting there at 5 or 6, though, it would be really tough to pass on him.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    If they think Jackson can stick at catcher he'd be very tempting at that spot.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    And I'm actually planning a piece on Jackson in the next day or two.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    High school catchers scare me almost as much as high school pitchers.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    The hit rate on HS catchers is probably way worse the HS pitchers.

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    Why no mention of Neftali Rosario anywhere?

  • In reply to Chris Trengove:

    Considered it but Rosario has been injured almost since the day he was drafted. He was already raw and he's lost so much development time. He's on the back burner for now. Cubs also have some nice catch/throw/game managers like Lance Rhymel whom I considered as well.

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    Heading into next year, it should be noted that Castillo's backup is not currently in our system. We need to sign a FA.

    I think we should keep Navarro, I like having a bat-heavy catcher to pair with Castillo, hopefully he doesn't get too expensive.

  • In reply to Zonk:


    But I don't we can afford to feed Navarro....

    Given the depth at 3B, I'd consider moving Candelario to backstop. He has the physical tools and his bat at Catcher would make him a coveted position player.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Navarro wants to be a starter and it remains to be seen whether he can still be that. I would imagine a team that could offer more ABs next year will give him more money.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I think Navarro's recent collision/injury exposed what we already knew. Mooney spoke with Hoyer and they are obviously aware of it. Lopez is showing some promise in AA, but he's still a couple years away from handling a MLB staff efficiently. even then, he's a platoon type of guy.

    I think signing Navarro s/b a priority this off season. Mooney quoted him recently as being open to returning and wanting to a be a part of the rebuild. With all the payroll we've shed recently, we can afford to pay him starters money to keep the Beef/Navarro platoon alive in Wrigley for 2 more seasons.

  • Any possibility of moving Malave back to catcher at some point? I know they've been moving him around a lot at other places.

  • In reply to ChiRy:

    I don't think so. They moved him off catcher almost immediately upon seeing him and it'd be curious to move him back after losing two years of development at the position.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    True. Any idea at this point of where he could stick long term?

    Great article & information by the way, but any time I think about catcher depth chart, I'm always upset being reminded of passing on Wieters for Vitters.

  • In reply to ChiRy:

    Yeah -- but that one doesn't bother me as much as Simpson. At least Vitters was still a consensus top 5 guy -- if not a top 3 guy. Problem was many thought Weiters was the best player in that draft. I'm quite sure these Cubs would have drafted him if the scenario repeated itself today.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    True, you can't win them all, and I feel like now we have the right combination of ownership & decision makers, that I shouldn't complain at all. As you mention leading off the article though, it's tough finding those elite catchers.

  • In reply to ChiRy:

    Yes. Definitely. No question they should have taken Wieters -- but ownership was not interested in spending money on the draft, even though it was peanuts compared to what they were spending on bad free agents.

  • This might not be the right place to post this...but was thinking (as I do every day, every hour) about the Cubs this morning and was trying to come up with their big move this coming offseason. I can see Castillo, Rizzo, Watkins, Olt, Lake, DeJesus...then Barney / Valbuena holding down SS until Baez comes up in May or June. The reason why I say this...Castro and the prospects for trading Wood / Schierholtz in a separate deal to Miami for G. Stanton to man right this possible or am I dreaming? ;) What else would it take? Can we or should we throw in Jackson /or Vitters as well?

  • In reply to apalifer:

    It's a big stretch to get Stanton for that package and as far as I know, the Cubs have no plans on shopping Castro. They only address the idea when a team approaches them, but even then they ask for the moon and the other team just hangs up, so it's not serious talk.

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    In reply to apalifer:

    Here's a thought just for arguments sake. Why not keep our prospects and move Baez to the OF when the time is right for him to move up to the show?

  • Good article, John; thanks. Look forward to the rest of them.
    BTW, who is in the lead photo--Willson Contreras?

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    Carrie Muskat ‏@CarrieMuskat 3m

    #Cubs claim OF Thomas Neal off waivers from Yankees. Dolis transferred to 60 day DL to make room on roster

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    A couple of you called that one. Nice work.

  • Slugging catchers are indeed rare, especially for the Cubs. According to here are the top five all time Cubs catchers in OPS:
    1. Hartnett, G. (.860 OPS) (231 HRs)
    2. Barrett, M. (.827 OPS) (57 HRs)
    3. Soto, G. (.797 OPS) (77 HRs)
    4. O'Farrell, B. (.765 OPS) (27 HRs)
    5. Davis, J. (.729 OPS) (122 HRs)

  • In reply to baseballet:

    Thanks for that stat. Gabby Hartnett was far and away the best catcher the Cubs have ever had.
    I remember meeting Gabby when I was a kid. He owned a bowling alley in (I think) Niles. Very pleasant and gracious man. It was cool because my mom witnessed his legendary Homer in the Gloamin' to win the '38 Pennant.

  • I kept expecting the next entry to be Bruno. He's intriguing at that position. Hope the Cubs continue to experiment with him there.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    I heard somewhere (sorry don't remember where) before he got hurt that they had scrapped that idea with Bruno after the attempt with him. They didn't want to pursue it anymore so why he skipped a level. I think also for John, he didn't include him because of being hurt and out for awhile. That is why he didn't include one of the guys. bruno only did it for a little bit.

  • In reply to Cubs Future:

    I'm more inclined to include Bruno in one of the infielders pieces.

  • In reply to Cubs Future:

    I figured him not being included here wasn't promising. I really do like the idea of your utility infielder being your backup catcher. Can save a roster spot for whoever. And by whoever, I mean a second lefty out of the pen.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    Cubs could have had that with Clevenger. In fact, there's some similarties between the two players. Clevenger was also a college infielder and a pretty good hitter in college and through the minors. I think Bruno may be a better hitter than Clevenger -- but Clevenger was no slouch coming up through the system.

  • The Idaho Statesman did a piece on Brockmeyer a couple of weeks ago. At 6'5", I wonder what his FB clocks in at...

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    In reply to Eldrad:

    I was also wondering about converting him to a pitcher.

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    John, how does the 2014 draft look in terms of catching prospects?

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    In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    I should say, what's beyond Jackson? Anything interesting in the college ranks.

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    If Willson Contreras is our top catcher, where would he be in a ranking of Cubs prospects? Would he even make the top-30? I don't think he would, which says something both about our catchers, and our system as a whole

  • Love your blog and opinions, but I have to differ on the assessment of Castillo. Calling him "above average" on defense is a little incredible given that he very deservedly has the worst fielding percentage of ALL major league starting catchers. He also contributed to the Cubs setting a record for most wild pitches in an inning (5 - with several being blockable). He can throw, but has the second-highest number of passed ball in the NL. This is a result of him failing to turn his glove in the proper direction, which is an amazing flaw in a major-league catcher. It also was no fluke that Navarro caught so many starts of both starting pitchers the Cubs were showcasing for trades, Feldman (5) and Garza (6).

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    Your comment about Castillo is incredible and definitely not John's... in fact Wellington is one of the better defensive backstops in the league. Castillo leads the league in DRS with a whopping 16 runs- next best is Salvador Perez/Russell Martin with 9. Yadi has only 5. And WC is 4th in stolen base runs saved, 6th in CPP/RPP according to Fangraphs. Trying to say Castillo contributed to a one-inning WP record is the most egregious example of cherry picking innings from a stat line to bolster an argument that I've ever seen.

  • In reply to Paulson:

    You cherry picked one of my multiple stats to make the case that I am a cherry picker? LOL. Your lavish praise for Welington's defensive abilities is typical over-estimation for a Cubs fan. Sounds like you would applaud a Marmol-like early extension for him. After all, we apparently have statistically the best defensive catcher in the NL (LOL), and Welington's BA of .270 is higher than Johnny Bench's career BA of .267. So assuming he adds some homers, we better not let this future HOFer ever leave.

    Also your stat about stolen bases saved is shaky. This year, Welington is third in the NL in both runners thrown out and stolen bases allowed. To compare catchers, comparing "caught stealing percentages" is far better, and there Welington is middle of the pack with a 28% CS percent. But I will give him slack on this being largely the pitchers' fault (as I think he has a very good arm), but as a receiver, Chicago has seen some of the worst catching ever this year between Castillo and Tyler Flowers on the South Side. It's been completely bush league.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    There's not really a question here. Castillo's all-around stats are better when advanced metrics are used -- which is what this front office will be looking at. Fieldng percentage is terribly outdated as far as this FO is concerned.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    The fact you've chosen to totally ignore Castillo's comprehensive DRS stats for this season shows you have no ability to see beyond your own ridiculous take. 16 defensive runs saved is a Gold Glove caliber performance and the Cubs still have seven more weeks to play this year. And the rGFP of 10 is tied with Jorge Posada in 2004 for the best that any catcher has had since Fangraphs has kept the stats. But your over-the-top bashing of Castillo's defensive abilities is the typical under-estimation of a Sox fan. And it sounds like you would cheer a Borbon-like early DFA for him.

    Come back when you learn something about baseball pal.

  • In reply to Paulson:

    LOL. I'm a Sox fan now. What's your incontrovertible metric for that? Because I bashed the Sox for having lousy catching this year too? Too funny. Sounds like your forensic abilities begin and end with the actuarial charts and then veers with quick-twitch-muscle-fiber alacrity into insult pretty fast. "Mom, where's that meatloaf!" Too funny, but all the best.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    None of that rant made any sense. Good luck to your Sox logic.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    Fielding percentage is not a statistic I would use to evaluate defense, especially for catchers. And Navarro is the lesser of the two defensively. And if you're going to talk about wild pitches, I was at a game where Navarro let 4 or 5 go in one game. Navarro wasn't catching Garza because of his defense. He was catching him because he knew Garza -- and Garza was somewhat superstitious about having him back there.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Oh, I agree raw stats aren't great for evaluating catchers defensively, which is part of my point: any good stat one can throw out can be offset by a bad one. But anyone who SEES Castillo catching SEES that he is very far from being a Gold Glove Catcher (as the articles point about framing pitches makes). Every time I WATCH his catching I'm shocked by the lack of basic fundamentals in everything but his throwing. That this article notes he's a converted infielder explains this. So those who wish to completely evaluate Castillo by the numbers can only be excited that with more experience Castillo will become even better than a Gold Glover. Que Suerte!!! Me... after watching his catching the last two years, Castillo strikes me as having peaked, and given the many obvious flaws he is as expendable as Marmol was when everyone was singing his praises 3 years ago... which strikes me as part of the take-away from this piece: we don't have great org depth at the position, so the solution will be outside when the time comes to compete better.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    Framing pitches has become so trendy of late that people observe that at the expense of everything else. But Castillo has improved considerably in that area as well.

    I use metrics and scouting reports in addition to my own observations when evaluating and all point to Castillo being much improved. Sometimes casual observation tends to focus on one aspect and it also tends to focus on small mistakes rather than the big picture. It's unreliable, which is why we also use metrics and scouting reports. And those things just don't support what you're saying.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Oh, I don't think Navarro is the long-term solution. I only noted him to provide him an extra proof point that even this organization is worried about Castillo when they have Navarro catch so many games of pitchers they are trying to showcase for trades. It's an interesting observation, but obviously not one covered by raw stats, which are useful but should be never be used blindly or exclusively... which is also the approach of this front office. John, thanks for the article and the conversation.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    We never use stats blindly here. I don't think there are many scouts who will tell you Navarro is a better defensive catcher than Castillo either. Probably none. It really just had to do with Garza and his psychological comfort level with Navarro more than Navarro himself . Navarro has also played often because he's had an outlier offensive season and the Cubs are riding that when they can because their offense needs it. I can pretty much guarantee you he's not playing because the Cubs think he's the better defensive catcher. I don't think anyone thinks that.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    You have a great blog John. Keep up the great work. I've recommended it to many. All the best.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    Thank you.

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    In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    Hey Skit just a little FYI that record your speaking of with the wild pitches in one inning wasn't Castillo. Navarro was behind the plate on that one I believe.

  • In reply to Jorge Soler:

    It was Navarro. I was there at Wrigley sitting in the 3rd row behind home plate.

  • Another eye-popping play by our Gold-Glove-worthy catcher WC (water closet): I'm watching the game tonight. It's the second inning. Edwin Jackson misses up and in on Michael Young, and WC completely misses the ball. It's the first-up-and-in pitch not over the hitter's head I've ever seen go for a Wild Pitch. Should have been charged as a Passed Ball. Granted Water Closet was set up for an outside pitch, but the plate is only 17 inches wide. A major league catcher -- let alone a supposed Gold Glover -- needs to be able to catch such a ball.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    Gee, do ya think he might have been crossed up, or is it straight to gallows for Castillo?
    Do you have anything constructive to say for a change?

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    LOL. "For a change"? This is the first article I've EVER commented on on this blog. Too funny. But the topic is Castillo being a Gold Glove caliber catcher, and who said anything about shipping Castillo out of town (or to use your more perverse imagery: the gallows... eeks)? The beef really isn't with Castillo personally. After all, I've never heard him or anyone with the Cubs claim he's a Gold Glover. I say let the kid play and learn and avoid farcical hyperbole comparing him defensively to Jorge Posado, Johnny Bench or better than Molina, etc.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    Reading your numerous rants on the same theme, over several days, I don't see much "let the kid play and learn". You seem to be ready to jump on his imperfections with every deficiency you perceive, and call them major flaws.
    I haven't seen anyone here comparing him to Posada [sic] except for one excellent statistic; and never to Bench, Molina et al.

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