The headlines in Chicago understandably center on the abrupt departure of veteran Cubs catcher Miguel Montero, who seemingly talked his way off the team with his postgame comments Tuesday. But the other part of Chicago's decision to designate Montero for assignment was that catching prospect Victor Caratini was summoned from Des Moines, Iowa, to serve as the primary backup to Willson Contreras.
Unless you're a prospect-hound, you're probably not familiar with the Cubs' new backstop, so let's fix that with a few quick tidbits. For context, Caratini is moving just a few hundred miles down I-80 and up I-55, at least once the Cubs return to Wrigley Field. But let's face it, in many respects Caratini is about to leap into the fishbowl of one of baseball's flagship franchises.
Where did Caratini come from?
Caratini, who turns 24 in August, is a native of Puerto Rico, just like Cubs defensive wunderkind Javier Baez. He was drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft by the Atlanta Braves out of Miami Dade Community College. The Cubs acquired Caratini at the trade deadline in 2014, sending reliever James Russell, infielder Emilio Bonifacio and cash to the Braves in return.
What has he done?
Caratini, a switch-hitter, has also played a lot of first base, so he fits in nicely with the Cubs' versatile roster of position talent. He also played third base at the rookie-league level, but this season, he has basically hit his way to the big leagues.
After finishing second among qualifiers in Southern League on-base percentage last season, Caratini was hitting .343/.384/.539 at Triple-A when he was called up. The slugging percentage is 120 points above his overall minor league average, and his eight home runs have already exceeded his career best by two.
As a professional, Caratini has been better against lefties than righties. However, he put up an OPS better than .900 from both sides of the plate this season.
But can he throw?
Montero's inability to throw runners out was pretty much what punched his ticket out of Chicago, whether that was because of his comments about it or the actual issue itself. Montero has thrown out just 8 percent of opposing base stealers over the past two seasons; the major league average over that span, by contrast, has been 26 percent. Only Derek Norris, Francisco Cervelli and Jonathan Lucroy have allowed more than Montero's 90 steals in that stretch, and all of them have caught at least 44 more games.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Montero's average pop time -- the time from when the catcher receives a pitch to when an infielder catches his throw -- when throwing has been 2.12 seconds this season, tied for the slowest response time in the majors. The average is 2.00 seconds. According to Baseball America, Caratini's pop time last season generally ranged from 2.05 to 2.10 seconds, and he threw out 26 percent of opposing base stealers. This season, that figure has been 28 percent.
What do the experts say?
Before the season, ESPN's Keith Law ranked Caratini as the Cubs' 12th-best prospect. He wrote: "Caratini is a switch-hitter with a patient approach, but he hasn't developed the power commensurate with his size. He has caught and played third and first base. He isn't great at any of them due to his arm strength, but he could work as a multi-function bench bat."
Baseball America, which ranked Caratini 17th among Cubs prospects before the season, suggested the Cubs wanted to see the catcher become more aggressive at finding pitches to drive. His slash stats at Iowa suggest he made that adjustment pretty successfully.
Do the Cubs have other options?
There has already been plenty of social media chatter that the Cubs could add Kyle Schwarber back into the catching mix when he's recalled from Iowa, and perhaps they could. But chances are Chicago will be careful about that, as the emphasis in the short term will be getting Schwarber's power bat going. If he doesn't start catching while in Triple-A, he's not going to do it at Wrigley Field.
Norris was recently designated for assignment by the Rays. He has hit just .190 since the beginning of last season and, as alluded to, has allowed 109 stolen bases during that span, more than anybody. Catchers from current sellers who could be available, per my Trade Tiers system, include Miami's A.J. Ellis, the Mets' Rene Rivera, San Francisco's Nick Hundley and Pittsburgh's Chris Stewart.
And ... David Ross already has a couple of different jobs, but "Dancing With the Stars" is over. Grandpa Rossy?