When the Chicago Cubs traded for Victor Caratini in the summer of 2014, they were banking on the then 20-year-old to make an impact at the big league level at some point in the future. At the time of the trade, current Cubs’ catcher Willson Contreras had not yet made it to Double-A, so the idea of adding depth to the catcher’s position seemed like a good one.
Fast forward four years and it’s Contreras that has made the most noise at the major league level. Despite two above average offensive campaigns from Contreras, Caratini is beginning to earn time on the big league roster. Most recently, the 24-year-old was recalled from Triple-A to take over Chris Gimenez‘s spot on the roster after the veteran was DFA’d.
That move came after Gimenez slashed .143/.219/.143 in 12 games for the Cubs and likely means Caratini will see an extended look in the back-up role at the big league level.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at what Caratini brings to the table and how he could have an impact on the Cubs this season.
Major League Ready Bat
When the Atlanta Braves shipped Caratini to the Cubs in 2014, the second round pick had yet to play a full season of professional baseball. Despite that, the youngster had recorded solid numbers as a 19-year-old in the lowest levels of the Braves’ system.
In 59 games during the 2013 season, Caratini posted a .289/.413/.428 slash line with just one home run and 25 RBI. Perhaps the most impressive statistic was Caratini’s 23 doubles which accounted for almost 40 percent of his hits.
With that partial season under his belt, Caratini started to make a name for himself as a line-drive, alley-to-alley hitter that would not hit many home runs but would hit doubles every other at-bat. In 2014 and 2015, the back-stop recorded 205 hits with 53 of them being doubles. While not the nearly 40 percent he posted in 2013, 26 percent of Caratini’s hits over that two-year stretch were doubles. That is pretty impressive for a 20-year-old kid who was still trying to figure out professional baseball.
In addition to his alley power, Caratini displayed an ability to take walks. During his first professional season, Caratini recorded a 15.9 percent walk rate. That number was followed by a 6.9 and 9.3 percent mark between the Braves’ and Cubs’ systems in 2014, just to shoot back up to 10.8 and 11.3 percent in 2015 and 2016. For context, Caratini’s walk rate would have been well above the major league average in 2013, 2015 and 2016, while falling right around league average during the 2014 season. Of course, the major leagues are a different beast than the minors, but nonetheless, Caratini was able to display patience at the plate at an early point in his career.
Four years after beginning his journey to the majors, Caratini received his call-up to the big leagues. On June 28, 2017, Caratini was recalled to replace Miguel Montero who, just like Gimenez, had been DFA’d. Across 31 games, the 23-year-old slashed .254/.333/.356, posting an OPS-plus of 80 along the way. Part of his struggles was an increased strikeout rate (19.7 percent) and lower walk rate (6.1 percent) than he had been posting in the minors.
Those numbers were a far cry off what Caratini posted in his time at Triple-A during the 2017 season. In 83 games, Caratini slashed .342/.393/.558 with 10 home runs and 27 doubles.
Despite his lackluster numbers during his quick big league stint, Caratini earned a major league roster spot to start the 2018 season. Backing up Contreras proved to be an assignment Caratini thrived in, at least in the early portions of the 2018 campaign. During the month of April, the 24-year-old amassed a .324/.361/.412 slash line in 34 at-bats. Those numbers, however, fell off to .214/.241/.214 during May and prompted Cubs’ management to demote the back-stop.
A 32-game stretch at Triple-A ensued in which Caratini hit .313 with a strong 13.1 percent walk rate and 135 wRC+. Those numbers, combined with Gimenez’s horrible offensive campaign, made it easy for the Cubs to call-up the young back-stop on Wednesday.
Overall, Caratini will bring some thump to the Cubs’ order when he spells Contreras. While that power may not result in home runs, one can bet Caratini will hit his fair share of doubles as he will likely become an RBI machine at the highest level.
Caratini’s Defense Remains a Question Mark
Over the course of his minor league career, Caratini has played three different positions: first base, third base and catcher. While he logged sufficiently more time behind the plate, Caratini has enough experience at the corners that he could be asked to play those positions in the majors. In fact, the youngster has already spent time at first base over the last two seasons, logging 87.1 innings and not committing an error.
That error-less baseball has resulted in one defensive run saved while his 154.1 innings behind the dish have cost him that run. In addition to being ever-so-slightly below average behind the plate, Caratini has thrown out 26 percent of base-runners who attempt a steal, a number that is three percentage points below league average.
Overall, Caratini has spent 242.2 innings on defense at the major league level prior to Wednesday’s action. In that time, he has been a completely average defender in terms of defensive runs saved, as he currently sits at zero. While that may not sound like an accomplishment, for a guy who was not highly regarded for his defensive work prior to the draft, it’s a win.
As a switch-hitting, alley-to-alley hitter, Caratini has proven all he needs to at the minor league level. Now, the task becomes translating his success from the lower levels to the major leagues. While that has yet to fully happen, Caratini has shown flashes of being an everyday major league catcher. Until his potential is completely met, Caratini will be no more than a back-up option. If he flips the switch and starts providing more offensively, the Cubs could have a nice piece of trade bait. For now, however, Caratini needs more seasoning behind one of the best catchers in the league and it looks like he’s going to get that time.
*Statistics current through July 3.
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