Projecting Victor Caratini

Following Miguel Montero’s kerfluffle with Jake Arrieta, the Cubs designated Montero for assignment today. In his place, they called up Victor Caratini from Triple-A. The switch-hitting Caratini had been tearing up PCL pitching this season to the tune of .343/.384/.539. Needless to say, that’s mighty exciting coming from a catcher. Caratini’s offensive profile is built around an encouraging combination of contact and power. At Triple-A this season, he struck out in less than 15% of his plate appearances while posting an ISO just south of .200. The latter was largely due to his 20 doubles. Caratini has also run high walk rates in the past.

KATOH likes Caratini more than most, projecting him for 5.1 WAR over his first six seasons by stats-only KATOH and 3.7 WAR by KATOH+, which incorporates his prospect ranking. Those marks place him 80th and 100th, respectively, among prospects. Caratini doesn’t even sniff most scouting-based top-100 lists.

To put some faces to Caratini’s statistical profile, let’s generate some statistical comps. I calculated a Mahalanobis distance between Caratini’s Triple-A performance and every season since 1991. In the table below, you’ll find the 10 most similar seasons, ranked from most to least similar. The WAR totals refer to each player’s first six seasons in the major leagues. A lower “Mah Dist” reading indicates a closer comp.

Please note that the Mahalanobis analysis is separate from KATOH. KATOH relies on macro-level trends, rather than comps. The fates of a few statistically similar players shouldn’t be used to draw sweeping conclusions about a prospect’s future. For this reason, I recommend using a player’s KATOH forecast to assess his future potential. The comps give us some interesting names that sometimes feel spot-on, but they’re mostly just there for fun.

Victor Caratini Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Name Mah Dist KATOH+ Proj. WAR Actual WAR
1 Brian Johnson 3.8 2.7 3.0
2 Ed Sprague 4.3 3.3 5.2
3 Humberto Cota 4.3 3.9 0.9
4 John Ramos 5.4 2.7 0.0
5 Yorvit Torrealba 5.7 2.5 3.8
6 Rob Johnson 6.6 2.5 0.0
7 Dan Wilson 6.8 3.3 10.3
8 Jose Morales 6.9 2.7 0.1
9 Pat Cline 6.9 2.6 0.0
10 Jason Jaramillo 7.8 2.4 0.2

Caratini’s a good hitter, but his profile really pops because he plays the most premium of defensive positions. If he weren’t a catcher, I probably wouldn’t be writing an article about him. He’s not regarded as a great defensive catcher, however. Both Clay Davenport and Baseball Prospectus have data that suggests he’s decidedly below average behind the plate. And here’s what Eric Longenhagen said about him last month.

A passable receiver with average raw arm strength, Caratini’s defensive shortcomings lie with his ball-blocking and immobility. But he’s an excellent hitter from both sides of the plate (but especially from the right side) and projects for an above-average bat without the game power to profile at first base. Scouts consider Caratini a species of player more commonly found in the American League, one who can DH, play some first base, and occasionally put on his catcher’s gear.

Wilson Contreras is the only other catcher on the Cubs’ roster, so Chicago apparently believes in Caratini’s defense enough to justify playing him, at least in the short-term. One could certainly argue Caratini could have used more seasoning in the minors: Steamer forcasts an unremarkable 81 wRC+ for the rest of the season. But following Caratini’s offensive showing in the upper levels between this year and last, KATOH thinks the 23-year-old has a productive big-league career ahead of him, even if there’s little chance of star potential.

Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.

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Cubs fans who remember the late ’90s are probably not amused to see Pat Cline’s name on the comp list.