When Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and Jason McLeod first took over the Cubs organization at the end of 2011, the minor league system was pretty barren, especially of catchers. But in the last five years, the Cubs have produced two catchers for the major league club in Willson Contreras and Victor Caratini, and there is another young catcher on the perhaps distant horizon. At 18, Miguel Amaya, is already garnering plenty of attention.
Amaya was signed out of Chitre, Panama as an international free agent in 2015. He was not considered the most elite prospect the Cubs signed that summer, but he was still ranked in the top 30 at #28 by MLB Pipeline. Jesse Sanchez wrote the following about the then 16-year-old:
The teenager has shown the ability to hit, but he has impressed scouts the most with his defensive skills. He looks the part, scouts say, because he calls a good game and takes control behind the plate.
How good is Amaya? Some evaluators believe he has a potential plus arm and could be a plus defender in the future. They also like his solid receiving skills, a must for any good catcher. Other scouts consider his arm average, but they also note that it’s impossible to ignore the total package and his overall potential.
At that time, Miguel was 6’0″ and 175 pounds. Now he measures out at 6’1”and 185 pounds with plenty of room to add on to his lean frame.
He began his career in 2016 playing for the Cubs Dominican Summer League 2 team. He hit .245 with a .344 on base percentage in 58 games. He also hit one homerun and drove in 22 runs. He did show some good plate discipline for a 17-year-old kid as he took 21 walks and only struck out 27 times in 208 at-bats.
While his hitting statistics were not overwhelming, it has always been about his defense. I was able to cull that Amaya threw out 24 of 51 base stealers in 33 games that summer.
When spring training began in 2017, there were whispers that Amaya could possibly skip rookie ball and go directly to Eugene because of his defensive prowess. In extended spring training, Amaya made that a certainty. Unofficially, he hit .375 with a .447 on base percentage and slugged .613 according to The Cub Reporter’s Arizona Phil. He also hit four homeruns and drove in 19 and had a 10 percent walk rate and a two percent strikeout rate in 29 games with 94 plate appearances. He threw out 15 of 38 runners and only made one error.
Watching Eugene’s games this summer, Amaya’s defensive presence is undeniable. He has gunned down 14 out of 29 players attempting to steal so far. When he throws from behind the plate, he has a quick release and throws right to the corner of the bag. Rarely is a ball thrown high or to the shortstop side of the bag. It is pretty impressive to watch.
When it comes to pitch framing, Amaya is very advanced for his age. In catching fellow top prospect Jose Alberto’s first start at Eugene, Amaya flicked his wrist and glove up several times in an attempt to get Jose the low strike. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. But you have to marvel that he can do that with ease for a pitcher throwing 96 or 97 miles an hour.
At the plate, Miguel is not having the best of years so far. In 21 games he is only hitting .229 with a .267 OBP. He has hit one homerun with nine RBI. He’s striking out at a faster rate this year. However, he is spreading the ball around more when he does hit it. In the DSL, almost 60 percent of his batted balls went to left field. This year, he is hitting 43 percent to left, 27 to center, and 29 to right. He does struggle with runners in scoring position as he’s only hitting at a .125 clip.
The most stark difference are his home/road splits. Heading into Monday night’s game, he was hitting .296 at home and only .103 on the road.
At such a young age, Amaya’s defensive capabilities are far beyond his years. His bat, however, is something you might expect from an 18-year-old playing in Short-Season ball. The bat will improve, it just might take a while. He is still growing, but there are some signs of hope as extended spring training showed.
Overall, it’s all about the defense. And for now, it should be. He calls a good game and sets nice targets. He can shut down a team’s running game in just an inning. For instance, in a game against Boise, he threw out three runners in the first two innings. They did not run the rest of the series against him. That is the kind of effect he can quickly have in a ball game.
Though Amaya is at least a few years away from even the upper levels of the farm system, his defense is already getting him noticed, and as the bat comes around, Amaya is a prospect worth keeping an eye on.
Lead photo courtesy Eugene Emeralds