This is the second in a series of articles naming minor league players and pitchers of the year. For consideration for John Arguello Minor League Player of the Year Award, a position player would have to be assigned to one of the four full season minor league teams (Low-A South Bend, Advanced-A Myrtle Beach, Double-A Tennessee, and Triple-A Iowa) at the beginning of the season, and not assigned to any short season teams during the playing year. Our panel includes minor league writers Michael Ernst, Stephanie Lynn, and Tom U along with Cubs Den writers Sean Holland, Myles Phelps and Jared Wyllys.
The Minor League Player of the Year – Victor Caratini, C
In a farm program that now seems a little light on position player talent due to some trades over the past year; one player has stood out from beginning of the season to the end. Iowa catcher Victor Caratini has batted over .300 for every month of the entire season. Add on to that a .268 average in 17 major league games, so far, and you are talking about a very special year, no matter who else is or is not any part of the Cubs’ system.
A native of Coamo, Puerto Rico, the 24 year old was selected in the second round of the 2013 draft by the Atlanta Braves. Caratini had played his high school ball at the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, the same school that gave us Carlos Correa. Upon signing, Caratini was sent to Danville in the Appalachian League, where he mainly played third base while hitting .290 in 58 games. The following season, Caratini was converted to catcher while still making a few appearances at third base. The switch-hitter was batting .279 in 87 games for Low-A Rome when he was dealt to the Cubs for INF/OF Emilio Bonifacio and RHP James Russell. Caratini then finished out the season with Kane County, playing 124 games for the eventual Midwest League champs.
Moving on to Advanced-A Myrtle Beach in 2015, Caratini experienced his first season as a full time catcher. In 86 games behind the dish, Caratini help shepherd the Pelicans staff to the best ERA in the Carolina League, leading to yet another league championship. Caratini was noted by followers for his advanced skills in game calling, pitcher management, and leadership. It was also the beginning of Caratini being cross-trained at first base has he hit .257/.342/.372/.714 with 31 doubles, a triple, four home runs, and 53 RBI in 112 games.
While the 2016 season was a trying one for Double-A Tennessee, Caratini continued to blossom while with the Smokies. Caratini raised his slugging percentage to .405, good for eighth in the Southern League; he also finished sixth in batting at .291 and fourth in the league with an OPS of .780. Defensively, Caratini improved his fielding percentage to .997 and increase the number of times he played first base to 30. Assigned to Arizona Fall League following the season, Caratini batted only .226 in 19 games while splitting his time evenly between catching and first base.
With high profile offensive players such as Jeimer Candelario, Jacob Hannemann, and Chesny Young assigned to Triple-A Iowa, it’s no wonder that Caratini opened the 2017 season a little under the radar. Caratini hit .312 in April and then really turned on the jets, batting .366 with three home runs and 17 RBI in May and .345 with four homers and 21 RBI in June. When the Cubs released veteran catcher Miguel Montero in late June, Caratini was given the call to the big leagues. Caratini responded by hitting .268 in 17 games over six weeks in the majors before returning to Iowa and batting .341 in August. Overall, Caratini has a .343/.388/.556/.944 batting line with 25 doubles, three triples, 10 home runs, and 47 RBI for triple-A Iowa.
Moving forward, Caratini can provide the big league club with another switch-hitter and versatile defender. There is some criticism that Caratini lacks athleticism and is a bit slow-footed, both on the base paths and in trying to throw out runners. But with his consistent hitting, ability to play a few different positions, along with his leadership skills, Caratini can provide the Cubs with a good clubhouse presence and with little drop off in production either offensively or defensively.
Although Victor Caratini was a unanimous decision by our panel, he was not the only player considered. Tennessee third baseman Jason Vosler has had a breakthrough season, and is currently leading the Cubs entire system with 21 home runs and 81 RBI. In addition, 2016 draftee Zack Short was asked to lead off for the first time in his baseball career and responded with a .382 on-base percentage to go with 18 stolen bases, 13 home runs, 47 RBI, and a .252 batting average between Low-A South Bend and Advanced-A Myrtle Beach.