Hail to the Victor: Who’s the Cubs’ New Catcher and Will He Stick Around?

In what amounted to a real-life version of fans’ knee-jerk social media reactions to Miguel Montero’s salty criticism of Jake Arrieta and his inability to hold runners on base, the Cubs designated their highly-paid backup backstop for assignment. In truth, this wasn’t so much a snap judgment as much as it was the camel’s back snapping under the final straw from an abrasive personality.

Montero was a lovable public figure, but he had previously worn out relationships in Arizona as well. Now, like Sammy Sosa and Carlos Zambrano before him, he quickly found himself on the outs with his now-former Cubs teammates. Like those other infamous characters, though, many will surely continue to look upon Miggy and his legacy with fondness that will be much easier to muster when he’s not spaghetti-arming throws to various bases.

But enough about that, let’s talk about Victor Caratini, the young catcher the Cubs have called up in Montero’s stead. It’s unsure how long the 23-year-old switch-hitter will be up, assuming the Cubs are in the market for a veteran catcher more suited to that backup role, but the promotion offers another chance to see the organization’s development machine in action.

Acquired from the Braves for James Russell and Emilio Bonifacio in a 2014 deadline deal, Caratini has steadily improved and has been enjoying quite the breakout season in Iowa. He actually hit really well in Tennessee last season as well, slashing .291/.375/.405 as a catcher and first baseman. But the .343/.384/.539 line he’s put up over 271 plate appearances in AAA is something else. The right-handed thrower has posted better numbers from the left side of the plate (.969 OPS), but a .906 OPS from the right side isn’t shabby.

I guess you could say it’d be nice for him to draw more walks, but that’s a pretty weak criticism in light of everything else. Not known for his power, Caratini already has a career-high eight homers this season after hitting only 16 combined in 1,381 previous at-bats. He leads the I-Cubs with 54 RBI and his 20 doubles are just behind Jeimer Candelario (22) for the team lead.

Add those two players with Ian Happ, Mark Zagunis, and Eddie Butler and the Cubs could conceivably field a lineup that features a majority of players who started the season in the minors. Given the injury situations they’re dealing with right now, that’s not a very far-fetched possibility.

And is it interesting to anyone else that Happ, Candelario, and Caratini are all switch-hitters? Just me? Okay, moving on.

While I do think Caratini is MLB-ready, I’m not sure how willing the Cubs will be to have him shoulder the load as Willson Contreras’s backup for very long. Despite his shortcomings, Montero was a solid framer and could handle both the stick and the staff (those are synonyms, but since I’m not using them in that manner, it’s what I like to call “clever wordplay”), which is why he’d gotten nearly one-third of the action behind the plate thus far.

When he proved more adept at throwing pitchers under than bus than throwing runners out at base, however, it was time to go. What’s problematic here is that the Cubs are now left with another firebrand — albeit not of the same variety — in Contreras who is still learning how to be an everyday big league catcher. And in Caratini they have a guy who could potentially fill that same role. Having a veteran presence to steady WillCo while letting Caratini have as many reps behind the plate as possible seems like the better play for the long term this season.

One name being tossed out this afternoon is the Tigers’ Alex Avila, who’s having a career year at the plate but is only on a one-year deal. In addition to what he provide statistically, Ashley MacLennan of Bless You Boys writes that Avila is “the kind of even-keeled, level-headed player the Cubs desperately need in their clubhouse.”

You can’t expect a .323/.439/.587 slash to continue, buoyed as it is by a .435 BABIP, but he’s only owed the remainder of a $2 million contract. The fact that he’s a rental, not to mention the flukey nature of his stats to this point, means the the Cubs probably wouldn’t have to part with much to pry him away from Detroit. Hey, it’s a thought.

For now, though, the focus will be on Victor Caratini and whether Joe Maddon will put him in the leadoff spot just so he can watch the world burn and take attention off of the Cubs’ trip to the White House on Wednesday.

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