Miguel Amaya Passes The Eye Test
In terms of a first impression in spring training, Miguel Amaya immediately passed the eye test for new Cubs manager David Ross, who forged a 15-year career as a catcher and earned two World Series rings.
This will be a pivotal year for Amaya, who got added to the 40-man roster in November and should start the season at Double-A Tennessee, the same level where Willson Contreras and Victor Caratini popped as prospects.
"When you just watch him walk around, that’s what a big league catcher is supposed to look like,” Ross said. "He’s got size. Great hands. When you see him work, he’s under the baseball, which I like personally.
"Good energy behind the plate. Great feedback. I love the body language when he’s catching a bullpen.”
Amaya is listed at 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds. He signed out of Panama in 2015 and will play this season at age 21. He should benefit from moving out of a difficult hitting environment at high Class A Myrtle Beach—where he still managed to smack 11 homers and 24 doubles—to the best hitter’s park in the Southern League.
"Mentally and physically, I’m ready to go,” Amaya said. "But they have the last call. I’m doing my best. Wherever I’m going this year, I’ll be ready to go and help the team.”
Amaya is trying to soak up as much knowledge as he can during his first big league camp. His locker is stationed at the far end of the Mesa, Ariz., clubhouse near the other catchers.
"I had the opportunity to watch them play in the World Series," Amaya said, "and now I’m here in the same locker room with them. That means a lot for me. I’m learning a lot.”
Ross commended Amaya for making an impression on every pitcher he caught this spring.
"Making impressions about how you go about your work—doing the extra work," Ross said. "Prospects sometimes can get a bad rap in camp because they don’t put their nose down and work. He hasn’t been that guy. He’s really just hung on every word from the veterans.”
— The Cubs could have enough second base options—Jason Kipnis, Daniel Descalso, David Bote—to get by without Nico Hoerner on Opening Day. Hernan Perez can also play second base and serve as a viable backup shortstop to Javier Baez, whose thumb injury forced the Cubs to summon Hoerner last September. Hoerner, the first player from the 2018 draft to reach the majors, looked like he belonged, though the Cubs may lean toward his long-term development with a stop at Triple-A Iowa first.
"It will be a big decision,” Ross said. "He has to play. But the way he goes about his work and what he did last year—getting on the big stage and coming off the couch—is pretty impressive.”
— This spring will be a chance for 25-year-old righthander Duane Underwood Jr.—who is out of minor league options—to finally stick with the Cubs or showcase his skills for another team. After making 125 career starts in the minors, his value could be enhanced by the new three-batter minimum, his work in the organization’s pitch lab and his exposure to the bullpen.
In 23 appearances as a reliever at Triple-A last year, Underwood put up a 3.15 ERA with 45 strikeouts and 13 walks in 34.1 innings.
Patrick Mooney is a senior writer for The Athletic Chicago