Cubs

'He's like a veteran catcher': How Victor Caratini emerged as a vital piece for the Cubs

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USA TODAY

'He's like a veteran catcher': How Victor Caratini emerged as a vital piece for the Cubs

Ever wonder what is said during those visits on the mound between pitcher and catcher?

"Papi, you're rushing. Why you going so fast?"

That's what Victor Caratini said to Kyle Hendricks last week, according to the right-handed pitcher.

Caratini's late-inning mound visit was an underrated play in last Thursday's contest. Hendricks threw seven shutout frames and allowed only three baserunners, but he couldn't do it all alone. He needed some help from his second-year catcher.

"That was perfect," Hendricks said. "He knows me so well. He could just see I was rushing a little bit, trying to do a little bit too much. I knew I was getting to the end of my rope, so to come out there, calm me down, get back to the focus of making a good pitch no matter what — keep it simple. It got me locked back in."

Caratini's mound visit doesn't show up in the box score, but it drew rave reviews from his manager and was another indication the 26-year-old is really coming into his own during a breakout season with the Cubs.

"I loved it," Joe Maddon said. "I think that's self-confidence. He knew exactly what was going on. He saw Kyle coming out of his delivery, he saw him getting too quick, he saw the warning signs against Kyle and he did something about it. 

"That's awesome. That's an absolute growth moment for Victor. To hear his pitcher say that, that really sticks."

Caratini's emergence could not have come at a better time for the Cubs, who have been without Willson Contreras for over a month this season between two different injured list stints. 

But even when Contreras has been healthy, Caratini had already taken over as Yu Darvish's personal catcher. The two have been linked as battery mates for every outing since June 26 and in total, Caratini has caught 15 of Darvish's 27 starts.

Caratini's bond with Darvish has developed to the point where the two now jog together before starts in a little pregame superstition. And even when he's in the starting lineup catching another pitcher, Caratini still goes out to catch Darvish's between-starts bullpens to help the 33-year-old pitcher work on whatever he needs to.

"Vic is such a calming presence back there and Darvish really appreciates having the way he sets up and the way he looks back there," Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. "But the relationship is so fun because the way they talk to each other, the way they interact with each other and Victor's not afraid to challenge a veteran pitcher who's been in the league for a long time and makes a lot of money, all those things. 

"Victor's not afraid to joke around with him and push back at him and challenge him. They joke around, but they're serious when they need to be. Even pregame, Darvish will say, 'hey, how was that pitch?' And Vic will say, 'oh, it stinks; it wasn't good.' He'll challenge him and it makes him better. They have such a good relationship. 

"From the minute they get to the park that day, they know exactly what the routine is gonna be — they're gonna run together before the game and they do a lot of things together. It's just this really cool, organic relationship that's formed over the course of the season and it's not fabricated, it's not fake."

Their Cubs teammates love watching it, too.

Behind the scenes, Caratini is known as a goofball with snark, which probably comes as a surprise to fans considering his quiet, emotionless demeanor when he's on the field or on camera.

"He's always on Darvish, giving him crap," Hendricks said. "It's awesome. It works. I don't know how —it just loosens you up, too. You don't take yourself so seriously. We just bash at each other. ... He's always had that in him, but now he's just kinda letting loose, letting it fly. Everyone around here now knows that's him. He's just coming into his own." 

Among Cubs position players, Caratini ranks sixth in overall WAR (1.3) and that's despite missing a month with a broken hamate bone and spending much of the rest of the season as Contreras' backup. 

Caratini agrees he's been more assertive this season compared to last year or his 31-game audition in 2017. He believes that has come with the confidence and sense of belonging that he now feels and he is comfortable making his voice heard in bullpens, mound visits, pregame scouting sessions or just in the dugout during games. 

He's built up a lot of trust with the Cubs pitchers and coaching staff over the last couple years, especially with his selfless nature.

"He's out there catching bullpens, so he's catching them when they're working on things and trying to get ready for the next game," Hottovy said. "Even on days he's in the starting lineup, he goes out and catches Darvish's 'pen cause he knows Darvish wants to work on some stuff for the next outing. His selflessness, his ability to take himself out of what's going on for the day, what he has to do to get ready and also do what he feels is right for the guys he's gonna catch next. 

"I think that's a testament to his personality and who he is and what he does and how well he retains information — whether it's scouting reports, whether it's the approach we want to have with a certain guy with sequencing on different pitches and he's got really good feel behind the plate. Whenever he goes off script, usually we know it's for a good reason. It's thought out, it's a pitch he just called that sets up from the previous pitch, all those things. 

"He does a great job. For a guy who is 26 years old, he's like a veteran catcher. He brings that kind of feel and that kind of presence back there. We're lucky to have him for sure."

Cubs announce David Ross' 2020 coaching staff

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USA TODAY

Cubs announce David Ross' 2020 coaching staff

Monday, the Cubs announced their 2020 coaching staff under first-year manager David Ross. The group features several new faces (italicized) among the holdovers from last season.

-Andy Green — bench coach
-Tommy Hottovy — pitching coach
-Mike Borzello — associate pitching, catching and strategy coach
-Anthony Iapoce — hitting coach
-Terrmel Sledge — assistant hitting coach
-Craig Driver — first base/catching coach
-Will Venable — third base coach
-Mike Napoli — quality assurance coach
-Chris Young — bullpen coach
-Chad Noble — bullpen catcher
-Juan Cabreja — staff assistant
-Franklin Font — staff assistant

Some notes on the new guys:

-Green was the Padres manager from 2016-19 (274-366 record) and was the Diamondbacks third base coach in 2015 — his first season coaching in the big leagues. Green's experience will be vital as Ross gets accustomed to managing.

-Driver spent the last two seasons as the Phillies bullpen catcher/receiving coach and the prior two seasons as Yale's catching coach. He was a collegiate catcher at University of Puget Sound and graduated in 2011.

-Napoli played 12 big league seasons from 2006-17. He and Ross won the 2013 World Series with the Boston Red Sox. Napoli will offer an extra set of eyes in the dugout from someone who, like Ross, played catcher, a position which helps managers manage the game from the field.

-Young spent 2018-19 with the Phillies as associate pitching coach and pitching coach, respectively. He previously worked in the Padres (2010-14) and Astros (2015-17) scouting departments.

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Ken Rosenthal says there's ‘not a chance’ Cubs re-sign Nicholas Castellanos

Ken Rosenthal says there's ‘not a chance’ Cubs re-sign Nicholas Castellanos

With MLB’s Winter Meetings kicking off Monday, the chances of the Cubs re-signing free agent outfielder Nicholas Castellanos aren’t looking great.

According to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal (subscription required), there’s “not a chance, at least for the moment,” the two sides reunite this offseason. Rosenthal cited how the Cubs are telling representatives of even low-budget free agents the organization needs to clear payroll space before entering serious negotiations.

The Cubs’ 2020 luxury tax payroll is projected to be $214 million (per Roster Resource), over MLB’s $208 million threshold. Should their payroll exceed $208 million, the Cubs will be penalized for their overages for a second straight season. Thus, the organization is looking to get under the threshold this offseason. Signing Castellanos would complicate that.

Rosenthal’s report brings back memories of last offseason; the Cubs were handcuffed by a self-imposed budget due to their payroll being right around the luxury tax threshold. They were economic in their spending, adding low-cost free agents Daniel Descalso, Tony Barnette, Brad Brach, Xavier Cedeno and Kendall Graveman. Whether it be due to injury, ineffectiveness or some combination of the two, those players had minimal-to-no impacts on the 2019 Cubs.

Castellanos, on the other hand, was an integral piece of the Cubs last season after they acquired him from the Tigers at the trade deadline. The 27-year-old slashed .321/.356/.646, hitting 16 home runs and 21 doubles in 51 games. That performance improved Castellanos' value entering free agency, and multiple teams are reportedly pursuing him — including the Cubs.

Could the Cubs shed enough salary to open space for Castellanos on the payroll? Sure, but they’re looking to upgrade their second base, center field and high-leverage relief production. As great as Castellanos was with the Cubs, they ultimately may not have the payroll space to bring him back.

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