Victor Caratini

Victor Caratini, Taylor Davis and the state of Cubs catching depth

Victor Caratini, Taylor Davis and the state of Cubs catching depth

Taylor Davis knows exactly where the cameras are at Wrigley Field and now those cameras will be watching him as Willson Contreras' backup for at least the short-term future.

A CT scan Friday morning confirmed the Cubs' fear that Victor Caratini had a broken hamate bone in his left hand and he will undergo surgery Monday. He's expected to miss 4-6 weeks with the injury and Davis was called up from Triple-A Iowa in Caratini's place.

Davis was informed he might be on the move Thursday evening, after Caratini felt something in his left hand on the first pitch of his seventh-inning at-bat (he later doubled home an insurance run). Davis landed in Chicago at 8 a.m. Friday morning and was in uniform for the series opener against the Angels at Wrigley Field.

With Caratini out until late-May/early-June, the Cubs may opt to look outside the organization for additional catching depth. Davis was the only other backstop on the Cubs' 40-man roster and has just 13 games of MLB experience under his belt. He's only been behind the plate for 6 innings in The Show, but the 29-year-old has spent parts of the last five seasons in Triple-A and has appeared in 299 minor-league games as a catcher.

"I'm probably one of the longest-tenured Cubs here," Davis joked. "Not in the big leagues, but I know most of the guys on the staff, so that definitely helps."

The Cubs also have Francisco Arcia as catching depth in Triple-A, but he doesn't have much big-league experience either (40 games, all coming with the Angels in 2018) and is not on the 40-man roster after signing a minor-league deal over the winter.

"I wouldn't doubt we're probably looking [externally] a little bit," Joe Maddon said Friday morning. "I will say that's probably true. But for right now, we're really happy with Taylor. He's really grown among the group. He's a very good receiver — the guys like him a lot for that.

"Offensively speaking, he comes up with some big knocks, too. ... He's definitely grown over the last couple years. I think he's very comfortable and I know our pitchers are very comfortable with him."

Theo Epstein and the Cubs front office acknowledged they were in the market for veteran catching depth in the offseason, but nothing came to fruition. That may change now, but this injury certainly won't change how the organization feels about Caratini and his fit for the role long-term, especially after the way he started the season (.571 average, 1.647 OPS, 3 doubles, 1 homer, 5 RBI).

"He was looking so good," Maddon said. "He was pretty upset yesterday; he knew how well he was playing. He knew what was going on. It's really unfortunate. It's one of those injuries...they're very freakish. They're taken care of, but they put you down for a bit."

Last spring, Caratini beat out veteran Chris Gimenez for the backup catcher role and spent much of the year in Chicago in that capacity. But he didn't have the type of season most were expecting at the plate while playing sparingly (.232 average, .597 OPS).

This spring, he said he came to camp a lot more confident and with the belief that he belongs in the big leagues. 

"He does things quietly," Maddon said. "He's not demanding, he doesn't ask for explanations. He just keeps doing his work. During camp, he wasn't throwing that well and then all of a sudden, his arm just started getting stronger. So he's just one of those guys that continually does his work. He's not flashy by any means, but he's very competent.

"The guy's a good baseball player. The way he's hitting here recently is kinda how he's hit in the minor leagues on a consistent basis. None of it's surprising when a guy starts doing it here. When he's done it before, you shouldn't be surprised. It's just unfortunate. He's done everything so well and right."

Davis' arrival to Wrigley Field continues the merry-go-round that is the Cubs roster so far in 2019.

On Friday morning, the Cubs suited up without six injured players (Caratini, Jon Lester, Mike Montgomery, Brandon Morrow, Xavier Cedeno, Tony Barnett), a trio of guys who have already been sent to the minor leagues (Carl Edwards Jr., Ian Happ, Brian Duensing), and a player on the restricted list serving out a suspension (Addison Russell).

That's not exactly what anybody expected for the April 12 roster.

But all that movement is an advantage for Davis, who already knew his pitching staff from spring training but also got to see Kyle Ryan, Allen Webster and Tim Collins in Triple-A before the promotion. 

Regardless of what happens with the roster in Caratini's absence, the Cubs will have to rely on their catching depth for a game or two a week to ensure Willson Contreras gets enough rest.

Caratini may be able to resume baseball activities a few weeks after surgery and will be ready to return to Chicago once he's able to swing the bat without any issues. Even though the injury is to his glove hand, it will not have any impact on his catching.

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Cubs dealt a major blow with Victor Caratini's hand injury

Cubs dealt a major blow with Victor Caratini's hand injury

It's not even mid-April yet and the Cubs' catching depth will be put to the test already.

The Cubs are expecting to be without backup catcher Victor Caratini for at least the next few weeks with a hand injury he suffered during Thursday night's 2-0 victory at Wrigley Field. The fear is Caratini fractured the hamate bone in his left hand during his final at-bat in the seventh inning.

He swung at the first pitch from Francisco Liriano and felt something initially, but finished the at-bat and wound up doubling home a valuable insurance run six pitches later.

"I felt it crack, but I felt hot, so I kept going and once I got to second base and took my batting glove off, I could tell there was something wrong," Caratini said.

Caratini had X-rays Thursday night and will go for a CT scan Friday morning. The Cubs will have a better timeline then, but these types of injuries typically take longer than a month to heal. 

This is Caratini's left hand, so he will need to let it heal not only for hitting, but also to be able to catch 100+ pitches behind the plate.  

The Cubs will add another catcher to the roster to back up Willson Contreras before Friday's game. They haven't announced who that player will be, but Taylor Davis is the only other backstop currently on the 40-man roster. Davis, 29, has gotten a taste of MLB action the last couple years, tallying 19 plate appearances in 13 games. He's been in the Cubs system since 2011 and has 236 minor-league starts behind the plate.

The Cubs said they were in the market for a veteran catcher over the winter, but wound up adding only Francisco Arcia to the system. If Caratini is set to miss at least a month, the organization may opt to acquire a veteran from outside the organization.

The Cubs want to ensure they're giving Contreras enough time off throughout the season to keep him fresh, so whoever fills Caratini's role will probably catch twice a week on average. 

This is a big blow for a Cubs team that looks like they may be on the verge of hitting their stride after a slow start.

Caratini doubled twice Thursday night to run his season line to .571/.647/1.000 with 4 extra-base hits in 14 at-bats. He notched only 9 extra-base hits in 181 at-bats a year ago.

The Cubs pitching staff has also grown fond of Caratini's skills behind the plate and calling a game. He's developed a nice rapport with Cole Hamels ever since the Cubs traded for the veteran southpaw last summer.

"Awful for him," Joe Maddon said. "I mean, this kid's playing as good as you can play. Behind the plate, at the plate, both sides of the plate. He did so much good work during camp and so now, we'll wait and see. I don't think it's gonna be something very quick."

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In lieu of a veteran backup catcher, Cubs place their trust in Victor Caratini


In lieu of a veteran backup catcher, Cubs place their trust in Victor Caratini

MESA, Ariz. — Barring a surprise move, the Cubs will head into the 2019 regular season with the same catching situation as a year ago — Willson Contreras as the bell cow and Victor Caratini as the backup.

It's still possible the Cubs add a veteran backstop into the mix (Martin Maldonado remains a free agent and a favorite of #CubsTwitter), but that's looking more and more unlikely by the day. Pitchers and catchers have been working together in Cubs camp for nearly two weeks now, so it would be less than ideal to throw another catcher into the fray and have that guy get up to speed with the entire pitching staff before the regular season begins on March 28.

The Cubs did add Francisco Arcia over the winter, but he's already 29 and has less MLB experience than Caratini.

So all signs are pointing to the 25-year-old Caratini as the backup once again.

After getting his first taste of the big leagues in 2017, Caratini beat out veteran Chris Gimenez as Contreras' backup last spring, though he didn't play much initially. 

Caratini started only 8 games at catcher over the first two months of the season before being swapped with Gimenez and sent back down to the minor leagues. The young catcher emerged in Chicago again during the first week of July and was here to stay after that.

"Nobody likes getting sent down and obviously I wasn't happy with it," Caratini said, "but I went down there, I worked on a few things and tried as hard as I could to come back and help my team win.

"...Even though [the season] didn't end the way we wanted it to end, during the whole process, I felt like I made it, I'm here and I'm going to stay as long as I can."

Caratini still didn't get a ton of playing time when he returned — 7 starts at catcher in July, 5 starts in August — but he started earning the trust of Joe Maddon's coaching staff and the Cubs pitchers as the year went along, eventually earning 11 starts in September.

Most of that was due to the rapport he built up with starter Cole Hamels after the Cubs acquired the veteran southpaw from the Rangers just before the trade deadline. Of Caratini's 31 starts at catcher in 2019, 8 came with Hamels on the mound.

"We like Vic a lot — he did a great job with Hamels last year at the end," Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said. "All the guys like throwing to him. He studies reports, he's in there all the time, he prepares. Most backups are older. He doesn't see himself as a backup, but he understands his role now and he prepares well.

"In that role, if the guys see you preparing, that's how you earn the trust of the pitchers and he did a good job with that."

Caratini may continue to catch Hamels a lot in 2019, but he'll still only see sporadic starts behind the plate with Contreras once again expected to shoulder a heavy load. Maddon insists Contreras' offensive slump in the second half of last year was not related to physical fatigue, but it stands to reason the Cubs would be more confident in giving their All-Star catcher a rest more often if their trust level in Caratini increases.

Even though he's made appearances in parts of 107 MLB games over the last two season, Caratini has only caught 366.1 innings and registered 266 plate appearances at the big-league level. He's also seen some time at first base and is a regular pinch-hitter, but it's not the type of consistent playing time that he's used to.

It's difficult for an inexperienced player to develop while only starting once a week or so, but Caratini came into the new season with the confidence of knowing he belongs in the big leagues and a better plan to settle into his role.

"When I was growing up — up until I got to the majors — I was playing every single day," Caratini said. "And it's not easy to only play a couple days a week at the most.  What's important is to prepare and study and that's what I try to do. 

"I try to prepare as much as I can because I don't know when I'm going to get called on to enter the game and I need to do everything I can to be as prepared as possible. That way, I can get into a roll where I'm playing often. My goal is to play every day and be an everyday player.

"...I do feel a little bit more established here. I just came to camp to do my job and try to keep my spot here and try to help the team achieve our ultimate goal."