This is Day Six of a Cubsmas Advent Calendar. You can read the explanation for the project and Day One here.
Every baseball season there is at least one development that truly catches me by surprise. A real, “Oh, I did not have that on my Cubs Bingo card” type of moment. One of those moments for me was Miguel Amaya’s major league debut and just how good he was when he finally hit the show.
You’ll forgive me for being a bit skeptical that the longtime top catching prospect for the Cubs would make his debut in 2023. After all, he started the season in Double-A, then found himself called up to MLB at the start of May after Yan Gomes was hit by a backswing from past and future Cub Jeimer Candelario.
Amaya had played only parts of each minor league season since 2019 due to injury. In fact, 2023 was the first season he logged 200+ plate appearances since before the pandemic. He had 272 plate appearances across three levels of play last season. Despite being called up from Double-A, and the missed playing time over the last three seasons, the Cubs felt good enough about their catcher of the future to part ways with Tucker Barnhart later in the summer. So today, let’s take a look at what Amaya brings to the table.
At first glance the slashline looks a little subpar at .214/.329/.359. Amaya’s wRC+ through his first 156 MLB plate appearances was a slightly below league average 94. However, there are some reasons for optimism. His .264 BABIP is quite a bit lower than the numbers he was putting up recently in Double-A and Triple-A. Beyond BABIP, the expected stats at Statcast also concur that Amaya was a bit unlucky. They put his xBA at .232 and xSLG at .393, which while still below the league average slashline of .248/.320/.414 for all hitters is right in line with the league average catcher slashline of .236/.303/.392 with a wRC+ of 89. In fact, Amaya’s best trait is his ability to get on base, something he is substantially better at than the league average catcher. He’s even a bit better than the league average hitter at that particular skill. You can see that in Amaya’s first big league home run below [VIDEO].
There is a bit of pop in Amaya’s bat, although I doubt he’s ever going to hit 20+ home runs in a full season. Steamer projections currently think Amaya will hit seven home runs over 236 plate appearances with the majority of Cubs catching plate appearances going to veteran catcher Yan Gomes. Notably, the barrel rate is a bit higher than you’d think it would be given a lackluster 33.3 percent hard hit rate. Amaya had a 9.7 percent barrel rate over 93 batted ball events
One place where the 24-year-old catcher is still clearly a work in progress is behind the plate where his blocking, caught stealing above average and pop time are all slightly below average, although his framing appears to be slightly above average. Take all of the below with a huge grain of salt as these are tiny sample sizes for a rookie catcher and I would not be surprised if all of these numbers moved quite a bit during Amaya’s sophomore season:
The 1.98 pop time in particular appeared to be exploited by speedier teams as the season progressed. Amaya gave up 31 stolen bases in just 33 games started at catcher in 2023 and 18 of those bags came after August first. In fact, Amaya gave up those 18 stolen bases across just 20 games down the stretch, with the Kansas City Royals and Arizona Diamondbacks both pinning three stolen base games on the rookie catcher in the last two months of the season.
Even with these flaws in his game, Amaya’s arrival marks an important moment for this Cubs team. The prospects are starting to arrive and if this new core can win a championship, Amaya figures to be in the mix at catcher for the Cubs. Improving on his rookie campaign both offensively and defensively could set him up to be the Cubs catcher of the future, or could put the Cubs looking for a starting backstop at the trade deadline if Yan Gomes, who will turn 37 next July, falters behind the plate.