Draft gurus considered 2013 a rather weak class, but rather strong on high school catching. Reese McGuire, Jon Denney, and Nick Ciuffo were atop the best-available lists, and it was as good of a draft class for prep backstops as there has been in almost a decade. How did the Cubs do, and why should we care?
Catchers are second to pitchers, and not by as much as you might think, as far as things going wrong between draft day and the major leagues. While an 18-year-old might have a wonderful arm, solid technique, and clobbers 78 mile per hour fastballs, many obstacles get in the way before MLB per diem. The constant crouching is never good on the knees. Foul tips off of various extremities take a toll after awhile. Hitting pro pitching is tougher than hitting second-line pitching before college age. Injuries sap the skills, and a 22-year-old struggling in A-Ball is often the result of a high-round draft pick.
Historically, the Cubs have been very mediocre at developing starter level catchers. Jody Davis' stint was the best one I remember, and he was a Rule 5 selection. Geovany Soto might be the pick for younger fans, with Randy Hundley being a better way-back option. Gabby Hartnett was the greatest Cubs catcher, but he last played more than 70 years ago.
A number of self-inflicted wounds have hampered development. For too long, spending on amateur draft classes was greatly limited. With a position as volatile as catcher, throwing three or four solid options at the position seems best, as the rate of attrition is so high. Getting a good 400 at-bat per year catcher is hard enough to do to start with. Limiting your possibilities doesn't help.
As recently as 2010, the Cubs spent a third-round selection on a catcher. That Micah Gibbs was released this year after never hitting over .250 in a season doesn't make him a bad pick. Catchers are tough to get to a high level of success, which is why more than one is usually a good idea. In that draft, only two more were signed, and Chad Noble has been a pleasant surprise. However, when you look at most of the Cubs (and, frankly, other teams') affiliates, the catchers usually hit near the bottom of the order.
From last year's draft, Chadd Krist, Carlos Escobar, and Lance Rymel have had some lower-level success. That said, nobody is expecting any of them to displace Hartnett in the Cubs annals. In this bumper-crop year, how did the front office do with backstops? In the first two days, they did nothing to fix the position. On day three, the attacked the position early and often.
Round 11, Jordan Hankins, Austin Peay State University
Austin Peay played 62 games this season. Jordan Hankins started them all. Hankins' 11 homers were second on the squad, and his OPS was .997. Hankins was mainly an infielder (2B/3B), though he caught as well. His numbers represent that he should be able to hit at least at the lower pro levels. I wasn't able to locate any numbers for him for throwing out base stealers.
Round 16, Cael Brockmeyer, California State University--Bakersfield
Brockmeyer played in all 59 games for the Roadrunners. While he hit only four homers, the entire team hit only six. His 2013 OPS was .896. He drew four of the team's five intentional walks, so he appears to be the best hitter on the team. Brockmeyer threw out six of 36 attempted base stealers. When not catching, he also player first base. He figures to play in Boise or Kane County in 2013.
Round 19, Will Remillard, Coastal Carolina
Remillard is a pure catcher. He played in 54 of Coastal's 2013 games, with 51 as a starter. His batting average was .280, He walked 13 times, fanning 17, and had seven sacrifice bunts. He caught injured Cubs prospect Josh Conway in college. My guess is that Remillard is the most advanced defensive catcher selected by the Cubs in the draft. He is unlikely to sign, as he was a sophomore-eligible selection, and might want more than $100,000 in bonus money to leave school.
Round 24, Tyler Alamo, Cypress HS (CA)
Alamo has a strong arm, and may be able to stick behind the plate. As numbers in high school are rare and largely useless, here is an article with more details on Alamo. He sounds interested in signing as a pro, but things change up until the ink dries. He would be a very solid future option with upside in Mesa in 2013.
Round 26, Carlos Pena, Southwest Miami HS (FL)
While information is aplenty on "Carlos Pena" on the internet, most of it revolves around the former Cubs first baseman. My guess is that Pena would be added if he is willing to sign for a bonus under $100,000, or if Tyler Alamo doesn't come to terms.
Round 37, Jeremy Martinez, Mater Dei HS (CA)
Martinez is one of the better-regarded backstops in the bumper crop this season. A Southern California commit, it's doubtful Martinez will sign this next month. Bringing in the 5-11 catcher would help immensely the depth and upside at the position. It's doubtful enough cash under the cap could be located to ink Martinez without a hefty penalty. That said, he hasn't refused the Cubs as of this writing, which is a very good sign.
Probably four of these selections will sign. While the college options don't represent much likelihood of being major-league starters, they would at least provide depth and competition at the post. The three college choices would keep any younger options from being over-used in Boise. Some will get run up the ladder in the next few years, where catching hasn't been a strength.
Signing Alamo or Martinez would begin the standard of having Mesa used as a proving ground for catching in the system. Pena is a wild-card, and Martinez was likely grabbed to get some good interview time with him for 2016, and to keep anyone else from doing the same. With the rampant rumors that Mark Appel may sign for less than the slotted amount, it's very possible that the Cubs' top pick, Kris Bryant, could also sign for less than the book rate. Saving a decent amount on Bryant could aid in adding a few later-round options, including the above-mentioned catchers.
It's doubtful any of these players will get 30 starts in the majors as a Cub. That said, as desperate as the catching situation has been, bringing in more options seems prudent. Lastly, all provide a chance at improving what has been a historically rather weak position. Get used to it, Cubs fans. Good draft class piled on top of good draft class with good training will lead to a deep farm system. At almost all positions.