James Russell and Emilio Bonifacio traded to the Braves

James Russell and Emilio Bonifacio traded to the Braves

James Russell and Emilio Bonifacio were the last Cubs players to be moved before the non-waiver trade deadline. The range of emotions that happened as news broke very slowly was interesting.

At this point the news was confirmed that Russell and Bonifacio were indeed no longer with the Cubs. That meant that the longest tenured Cub was again traded off the team in James Russell. Emilio Bonifacio was a useful utility player that made many fans with his blazing hot start to the season. Both were expected to be traded, and so the news that they had been dealt was a bit anti-climatic at this point.

This is when things started to get a little crazy. The news about the return was leaking very slowly, and then the news that the return was a singular minor league catcher. Why did that provoke this reaction from me?

The reason is that the Braves number 2 prospect is catcher Christian Bentacourt. Bentacourt was the 69th ranked prospect according to Baseball America. He has struggled a bit in AAA this year, but that would be beyond robbery for a middle reliever and utility guy.

Then reality came crashing in.

Have to admit to being a bit crushed at reading a name besides Bentacourt, no matter how unrealistic I knew that return was. However I had a few lists pulled up from the Braves system and the fact that I managed to find Caratini’s name on them was a bit of shock. Caratini is a legitimate prospect, and on that very well might be within the Cubs top 20 (the very back end but still has a shot at it).

Here is the report that John Sickels had on Victor Caratini prior to the start of the year:

10) Victor Caratini, 3B-C, Grade C+: Borderline B-. Solid line drive hitter with good strike zone judgment, hit just one homer in the Appy League but some scouts believe that the homers will come in time. Others aren’t sure, but at least he has a good eye. Will be interesting to see how he adapts defensively.

The numbers show a prospect playing at age appropriate level, and hitting very well as a catcher in that league. As a switch hitter catching that was putting up a .279/.352/.406 line it seems like a great get for Russell and Bonifacio. A hitter that has some idea of the strike zone and some power (18 doubles in 87 games) is an intriguing prospect.

That is pretty exciting for behind the plate, but that last line in the Sickels blurb is concerning. Checking Caratini’s statistics shows that he has played 57 games at 3B and 70 at catcher. He is listed as 3B/C on most prospect lists. So it would seem like the tools to stay behind the plate might not be there. A free Baseball Prospectus scouting report confirms this take on the situation.

Caratini is an enigma. He would profile well behind the plate and has the defensive chops to stick, but his arm is weak and would be exploited behind the plate at the highest level due to a long release and poor pop times. At third base, his arm could play at the fringe-average level, but his defensive chops at third are unrefined and don’t project to get better due to a body that’s maxed-out physically, hands that are underwhelming, and poor lateral agility.

All in all, Caratini projects to be a utility player who can play some third, some catcher, and possibly even some first base at the highest level. His bat will be his carrying tool through the minors, but his lack of a true defensive home will limit his impact at the highest level. If a team is willing to punt defense behind the plate (i.e. the running game), he has the ceiling of a second-division regular as his bat would profile well at the position. Things become more complicated if he’s developed as a third baseman solely, however, as his bat won’t be a profile fit at the hot corner. His ability to smash line drives all over the field, limit a pitcher’s platoon advantage, and show a decent approach at the plate will make him valuable in a bench/utility role.

So Caratini is not the Cubs long term answer at catcher, but rather another name to throw in the pile of interesting low level minors catchers that have been collected in the past couple of seasons. The ceiling on him seems questionable given the fact that his defense is not likely to be great at either spot (catcher or third base). His bat does not profile well at third base as well. So the utility role might be his ceiling if the team isn’t willing to live with his sub-par arm behind the plate.

The Cubs traded a middle reliever who was not terribly effective this year and a utility player who was a free agent at the end of the year to land a legitimate prospect. Victor Caratini is not going to make the Cubs core four or sexy six or magnificent seven or whatever silly name you give the Cubs top prospect group. However, if he reaches the ceiling of a decent hitting backup catcher and third baseman that is great return for the pieces given up.

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