The MLB Draft is about grabbing the best talent available, and developing it. If the first baseman from Wichita State is the best available, in whatever round, you take him, Anthony Rizzo or not. In most cases, two factors complicate taking the ‘best available." Quite a few players are similar. If quite a few players are similar, tie-breakers kick in. Toss into this indecision salad for the Cubs the Miguel Amaya question, and the entire board might moderately change.
Before I get to Amaya, I look back to 2013. The Cubs had the second pick in the draft, and two of the top three choices were pitchers. Everybody loves to get an ace on the mound, but were Mark Appel or Jon Gray going to pull off that role? Speaking in 2020, we can answer that, but all the pertinent information was due in June 2013. Even with Appel gone, quite a few people still wanted Kris Bryant. Was he the best on the board in 2013? He was by 2015.
Bryant was a very good athlete, which should have been obvious in June 2013. With the new pitcher-friendly bats, he was hitting home runs more often than most teams. It would boil down to his defense and his average/on base ability. He had shown the ability to take walks, and hit pitcher's pitches. Research at the time should have indicated that he might not be better than Gray (Pitchers are solely dependent on things unclear on draft day. How will his command develop? Will he stay healthy?). It should have been obvious Bryant was a reasonable grab. Best on the board? Unless you were a huge devotee of Gray, probably. And if Bryant was a 12 WAR player, but Gray figured it out, Bryant's safety justified his selection.
When the Cubs are on the board next month, “best available” might not be there. The Gray questions will apply to every pitcher under consideration. With far less research time, this cycle. Heston Kjerstad could be off the board. (I'm not sold on him long term. He seems to homer significantly better off of second- or third-tier pitching than guys that seem MLB-bound. Yeah, everyone does, to an extent. But he owned Eastern Illinois pitching in the first week of 2020, but struggled against Gonzaga the next weekend.)
A popular trend is to hitch the Cubs to a bat-first catcher. There are a few, both in college and high school. After all, Kyle Schwarber. Schwarber sold himself to the Cubs front office, and it paid off. However, as you dial the clock back to June 2014, what was the Cubs’ catching scenario? Willson Contreras was in the process of busting out in Daytona, but was going to be Rule 5 Draft-eligible in December. Catcher wasn't a position of strength, yet.
Fast-forward to 2020, and Willson Contreras is backed up by the capable (and team-controlled) Victor Caratini. None of us know how youngster Ethan Hearn (a recent second-day draft selection), Ronnier Quintero (a current cycle international name of note) and Brayan Altuve (a lesser name in the same cycle, but the second or third priority on the list) are developing, but the depth boils to Amaya.
Amaya is a 21-year-old catcher from Chitre, Panama. When I think of Panamanian catchers, I think of Manny Sanguillen. Sanguillen's strike zone was "between the batter's circles," but he hit, ran, and was very popular with his pitchers. When assessing catching, so much is 'behind the curtain' that people who assess on OPS or caught stealing percentage only miss most of the story. A catcher's primary gig is to get the people with bigger numbers standing a foot over everyone else to get better.
"Don't worry about the curve going in the dirt. I'll block it." If a catcher can figure out which order to toss which pitches, and where, the pitcher can limit his priorities to making the pitches the catcher is making. If the guy with the gear does his job.
"But, I saw Amaya in spring. He wasn't hitting at all. Maybe the Cubs should draft a catcher."
Which is why I've held off on "which Amaya question" to ask until now. It isn't "How good is Amaya?" any more than "How well does a caterpillar fly?" Who Amaya is now is as inconsequential as how well Bryant would play MLB third base in May or June 2013.
If Amaya is likely going to be a serviceable MLB catcher who can non-embarrassingly hit sixth or seventh in a MLB line-up in 2022 or 2025, the Cubs probably ought to select a position other than catcher. Unless there is a "best available" scenario at 16, which is unlikely. Contreras (even if he bolts in free agency, which might not happen) ought to lead to Caratini, who might get supplanted by Amaya. With Hearn, Quintero, and Altuve on the prowl behind. If a best-available scenario pops in the second or third round with a college player who can push Amaya, then cool. However, with pick 16, the Cubs have plenty of weaker spots to fill in than catcher. After all, Nico Hoerner was called to MLB after his season was over. The pitching remains unsettled. Jason Heyward is the best right fielder in the organization. The Cubs have bigger needs than a catcher who isn't very good at catching.