Cubs GM Jed Hoyer told reporters last year the Cubs needed to upgrade their catching depth—they’ve done that. They used their first-round pick on Kyle Schwarber in June and the following month, traded for Victor Caratini, one of the Braves top-rated prospects. Throw in several draft picks and the Cubs have improved their backstop position but the fruits of those labors are still a few years away. Two-time Southern League All-Star Rafael Lopez, who was Rule 5 eligible, was added to the 40-man roster. Some are writing off Welington Castillo but he looked more comfortable behind the plate and did a good job handling the pitching staff, especially the young arms brought up late in the season. The Cubs have three more seasons of control over Castillo, so I don’t see them giving up on him just yet. They could head to the free agent or trade market this off-season to get another catcher, but that move may be a year away, depending on the development of Castillo and Lopez.
Cubs 40-man roster
Welington Castillo was one of the few bright spots in 2013 but couldn’t repeat his performance in 2014. While his slugging has remained the same, his average (.274/.241) and on-base percentage (.349/.300) has dropped. The 27-year-old has smacked a career-high 13 homers and threw out 34 percent of base stealers, above the 31% league average...........John Baker, a free agent at the end of the year, served as the back-up to Castillo, and when the starter went on the DL, the 33-year-old veteran saw his fare share of playing time, the most games he’s played since 2009, his second year in the league. Baker hit .196/.274/.235 in 204 plate appearances with 15 RBI. His highlight of the year was getting the win with a scoreless frame of relief in the Cubs 16-inning 4-3 victory over Colorado on July 29...........Rafael Lopez started the year in Tennessee (.297/.412/.466, 45 G, 4 HR, 24 RBI, 29 BB, 24 K) and was named a Southern League All-Star. The 26-year-old was promoted to Iowa and hit .255/.378/.329 in 61 games but had 52 K and 28 BB in 207 at-bats.. He’ll have a chance to compete for the back-up job next year and will give the Cubs an option in AAA if they add a catcher.
Eli Whiteside played in eight games with the Cubs when Castillo was injured (3-25, 1 RBI) but spent most of the year in Iowa (63 G, 230 PA, .214/.291/.364, 6 HR, 21 RBI). The 34-year-old is a free agent.
A Rule 5 pick-up in the minor league phase, Charlie Cutler quietly went about his business in Tennessee and put together one of the better seasons for a Cubs minor leaguer. In 102 games for the Smokies, Cutler hit .310/.415/.412 with 5 HR, 42 RBI and 48 R. He also showcased his versatility playing first (19 G) and left (4 G)........Luis Flores started his seventh season in Iowa (31 G, .253/.440/.356, 2 HR) and when Lopez was promoted to AAA, headed to Tennessee (36 G, .252/.339/.383 3 HR).....Taylor Davis, 24, had his best year as a pro hitting.319/.375/.500 in 53 games as the backup catcher in Tennessee. He launched a career-high four homers and had 11 doubles in 152 plate appearances.
Kyle Schwarber slugged his way into Cubs fans hearts after being the first-round pick in June. Signing days after the draft, Schwarber was in Boise long enough to win Player of the Week honors and hit four homers in five games. He hit four more homers in 23 games in the MWL for Kane County and ended the year at Daytona, playing 44 games. In 72 games he hit .344/.428/.634 with 18 homers and 53 RBI. The Cubs only let the Ohio native catch 20 games but they plan to make him a big league catcher......Willson Contreras was Dayton’a everyday catcher and after hitting .280 over the first half only batted .212 over the final 44 games, but hit four of his five homers. He finished with a slash line of .242/.320/.359 with 37 RBI. He showed improvement behind the plate committing only one error after 18 last year and threw out 29 percent of base stealers.......Benjamin Carhart spent most of the year at Kane County (102 G, .269/.339/.360, 5 HR 43 RBI) and was promoted for the final two weeks of the season. He only caught two games for Daytona (.340/.392/.447), playing 11 games at third. It was his first season catching after converting from third base.......Lance Rymel played for Iowa (2 games), Tennessee (5 G,) and Daytona (3 G) getting as many hits (3-21) as teams he played for. The 2012 28th round pick finished his third season.
Victor Caratini 21, was the # 8 ranked prospect in the Braves organization by MLB.com before he was dealt in July for LHP James Russell and OF Emilio Bonifacio. He played 14 games at Kane County (.264/.310/.377) before ending the season on the disabled list. The switch-hitting backstop appeared in 87 games for Rome with 42 RBI and a .352 OBP.......Mark Zagunis was the Cubs third-round pick in June, and while he only caught 19 games (168 innings), he did make a big splash at the plate, hitting .288/420/.420 with stops in Mesa, Boise, and Kane County including it MWL title run. The 21-year-old hit for the cycle in Boise and played 57 games........Cael Brockmeyer had a breakout season and caught all seven playoff games. During the regular season, the 22-year-old hit .297/.366/.461 with 8 HR and 43 RBI and spent close to 400 innings behind the plate......The Cubs Player of the Month for April, Will Remillard not only impressed with his defense and ability to call a game, he also surprised the organization with his bat, hitting .286/.372/.381 with 26 RBI in 49 games. Remillard had two stints on the DL, including the final month of the season.
Canadian Justin Marra had a good season batting .279/.356/.490 in 58 games, 30 at catcher. The 21-year-old left-hander slugged nine homers and earned NWL all-star honors......Mark Malave was the Cubs top July 2 free agent in 2011 and in his third season, the Venezuelan native made the switch behind the plate, catching 25 games after only two innings previously. Still only 19, Malave hit .263/.348/.321 in 137 at-bats with eight doubles and is still looking for his first pro homer.
Tyler Pearson, the Cubs 25th round pick in June from Texas State, led Mesa with 19 games behind the plate and threw out 32 percent of base runners. The 22-year-old hit .235/.322/.431 with two homers.......Erick Castillo, 21, played all 17 games at catcher with a slash line of .264/.316/.340 in his second year stateside. Alberto Mineo only caught nine games and played 15 at first. The 20-year-old from Italy had his best pro season (.241/.367/.336) and hit his first pro homer.......Tyler Alamo ended the season with Kane County as the backup catcher during the MWL playoffs but didn’t see any action. He appeared in 31 games in Mesa (.215/.267/.237) with 14 games behind the plate.
One of the prospects from the Cubs 2013 July 2 International free agent haul, Yohan Matos didn’t disappoint in his first season and earned a trip to fall instructional league. The 17-year-old hit .289/.378/.469 with six homers, 39 RBI and 7 SB in 225 plate appearances. He also saw time at DH and 1B. Erick Gonzalez, 18, (.254/.297/.322) caught 19 games in his first year while Martin Hodwalker (12 G, 35 PA, .094/.147/.094), Antonio Valerio (12 G, 134 PA, 256/.336/.316), Richard Nunez (6 G, 66 PA, .175/.288/.246), Carlos Ramirez (5 G, 27 PA, .273/.407/.545) all saw action behind the plate.
Jhonny Pereda caught 53 games in his second season and the 18-year-old earned a trip to fall instructs. Pereda threw out 41 percent of base stealers and hit .228/.314/.279 in 243 PA. Roberto Vahlis, 20, batted .216/.348/.299 in 53 games (18 behind the plate) in his third season.