When the Cubs front office made the shocking decision to end the Cubs career of Miguel Montero this morning, they did so with the full knowledge that they had another catcher in Iowa who was major-league ready. Victor Caratini, 23, has been having a breakout season in Triple-A, and now he’ll gets the chance to show what he can do in the majors.
The Puerto Rican-born Caratini moved to Florida to play college baseball, where he was a third baseman and catcher for Miami-Dade Junior College. He did well enough there for the Braves to select him in the second round of the 2013 draft.
The Braves had Caratini play mostly third base his first season in the minors, but it soon became clear that his slow foot speed meant that if he had a major league future, it would be behind the plate. He started catching more or less full-time starting in 2014 and did well enough there that caught the eye of the Cubs, who got him in a deadline deal for LHP James Russell and utility player Emilio Bonifacio.
The switch-hitting Caratini showed immediately some good on-base skills and the ability to hit the ball to all parts of the field. Defensively, he’s always been a work in progress as a converted infielder, but he’s shown a good ability to handle a pitching staff and field his position. His arm, however, is the weakest part of his game. He did throw out 28% of base stealers at Iowa this summer, which is not good but at least it isn’t terrible.
Caratini has moved through the Cubs system one level at a time since 2014, always doing just well enough to stay on the prospect radar. But the Cubs had always felt that Caratini had more power than he was showing in games and they worked hard with him over this past offseason to be able to drive the ball with more authority.
Something worked, because Caratini has been having a breakout season in Iowa. In 68 games, Caratini has hit .343 with a .384 OBP and a huge jump in his slugging percentage to .539. That .343 batting average was good enough for 4th in the Pacific Coast League, only behind three players who play at altitude in Colorado Springs and Reno. He has already hit a career high 8 home runs and his 20 doubles are just five fewer than he hit all of last season. His batting average is being driven by probably an unsustainably-high .374 batting average on balls in play, but some of that increase is undoubtedly due to Caratini learning to drive the ball better.
In many ways, Caratini’s 2017 season reminds me a lot of the breakout season another Cubs catcher had exactly a decade ago—Geovany Soto in 2007.
Caratini is also very slow. That bears repeating. He’d probably beat Montero in a foot race, but not many others.
If Caratini’s 2017 power surge turns out to be sustainable, he projects out to be an offense-first catcher with decent skills behind the plate and a weak arm. (Although some reports say his arm strength is good and his problem is mainly his footwork and transfer times. That seems like something that could be fixed.) Whether he’s a starter or a backup will depend on how much defense a team is willing to sacrifice to get his bat into the lineup. Luckily, with WIllson Contreras, the Cubs aren’t going to have to make that choice. Caratini can also serve as a backup at first base, where he often plays when he’s not catching.
Caratini’s breakout 2017 season showed that he was ready to make the leap to the next step, but he had been stuck in Iowa because there was no room on the roster for him in Chicago. With that problem fixed, Caratini will now get the chance to see what he can do at the next level.