Cubs prospect profile: Miguel Amaya
The possibility of electronic strike zones in the near future has complicated the evaluation of catching prospects.
In one realm, there’s a chance that robotic zones are further away than we think. This would allow for the majority of defense-first catching prospects to provide value to their organizations within the next few years, before robotic zones virtually eliminate a large component of that defensive grade — pitch framing. If technology inserts itself into every pitch sooner, the landscape of catching prospects changes drastically. No longer will pitch framing be an integral part of a defensive grade. Teams may experiment with big bats who can scrape by behind the plate just to reap the offensive advantage.
Amid this uncertainty, Miguel Amaya is one of the top all-around catching prospects in baseball. His profile makes him a valuable piece of the Cubs’ future regardless of what the league decides to do with balls and strikes.
The Cubs signed Amaya out of Panama during the 2015-16 international signing period. They spent more money internationally that year than every team but the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Amaya has become the most promising from the Cubs’ crop of position players, with Brailyn Márquez leading their haul of pitching prospects. He debuted in the Dominican Summer League in 2016 at 17 years old, posting a modest .245 average and .344 OBP in 58 games. The following season, he jumped to the states and caught 43 games with the short-season Class-A Eugene Emeralds. His slight decline in performance from 2016 to 2017 caused worry, but the Cubs were committed to his development.
Amaya’s performance with full-season Class-A South Bend in 2018 reinforced his potential. He slashed .256/.349/.403, hit 12 home runs and drove in 52 runs in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League. His 92 starts behind the plate were more than double the quantity he suited up for in either 2016 or 2017. When he lept to High-A Myrtle Beach in 2019, his results remained consistent. He hit 11 home runs, reached base at a .351 clip and caught another 91 games. After receiving only seven at-bats with the big league club in Spring Training in 2019, he earned 25 at-bats in 2020’s abbreviated Spring Training.
The 21-year-old’s well-rounded profile is what makes him so intriguing. He projects to make more of an impact with his hit tool than his power at the major-league level and maintain his ability to get on base at an above-average rate. His contact rate, ability to spray the ball to all fields and reach base in his last two minor league seasons have confirmed this aspect of his game.
Behind the plate, he shows a strong aptitude for pitch framing and blocking, which have earned him the grade of an above-average future defensive catcher by some outlets. This would make him one standard deviation above the average defensive backstop at the major league level, a true endorsement for a player who just turned 21 years old. Some evaluators even think Amaya could hold his own defensively behind the plate at the major league level this season.
In the event electronic strike zones are delayed beyond Amaya’s debut, he could slot in as the Cubs’ everyday catcher by the 2023 season if Willson Contreras is not re-signed. If electronic strike zones arrive sooner (perhaps after the CBA expires in late 2021), Amaya’s bat and approach still make him a prospect well worth factoring into the Cubs’ future. Although a portion of his value is tied to factors out of his control, he has a solid chance at contributing to the major league club.
If everything clicks, he could go down as one of the better players with Panamanian heritage in MLB history — next to Mariano Rivera, Carlos Ruiz, Carlos Lee and Rod Carew.