MESA, Ariz. -- Carter Trice had probably the most unusual Arizona Fall League experience of any player who came to the developmental circuit this offseason.
A 12th-round pick in July, Trice was the lone 2023 draftee in the AFL. But the Cubs didn’t send him to the Mesa Solar Sox with the idea of getting him regular at-bats. Or even taking the field very often.
Primarily an outfielder and second baseman in college at Old Dominion and North Carolina State, Trice found out after getting drafted that Chicago wanted to convert him to catcher. He spent most of his debut on the sidelines in the Rookie-level Arizona Complex League working on learning his new position, getting 32 at-bats in 10 games and four innings behind the plate.
AFL teams have 25-man pitching staffs, affording Trice the opportunity to work with a wide variety of talented arms once he joined the Solar Sox. Not ready yet to handle high-caliber pitching in game action, he instead got his work behind the plate in bullpen sessions. An occasional DH for Mesa, he found himself in the starting lineup for just the fifth time in the final game of the season on Thursday night.
Trice made the most of his opportunity, generating a highlight to remember. After collecting just one hit and striking out nine times in his first 14 Fall League at-bats, he homered off right-hander Chase Chaney (Angels) in the fifth inning of a 4-1 win over the Scottsdale Scorpions.
“They kind of throw me a bone once a week just to keep me on my feet,” Trice said of his sporadic playing time. “The home run felt good. I’ve been trying to do that the whole time. The dugout got pretty excited because they know I’ve been going for it.”
Trice has more tools than a typical 12th-rounder. He’s a 6-foot, 200-pounder with plenty of bat speed and impressive exit velocities, not to mention solid speed. But he also comes with swing-and-miss issues and earned a power-over-hit tag after winning Conference USA Freshman of the Year honors in 2021 but failing to match that production in his next two college seasons.
Trice hadn’t caught in a game since he was 12 years old, so he never imagined that would be his route into professional baseball. But he says he’s excited by the challenge.
“I thought I was going to be Yadi Molina in a week, but it didn’t work out like that,” Trice joked. “There’s a lot of things I need to work on, but we’re making strides to get there every day.
“I think the hardest part is just being comfortable behind the dish. You can do all the drill work you want, but just being comfortable in a game setting and the flow of the game. The throwing is going good but I cut the ball a little bit, so we’re working on that.”
Yankees second baseman Caleb Durbin also homered for Mesa but came up short in his bid for the AFL stolen base record. He finished tied for the second-most in league history with 21 swipes in 23 games. Rick Holifield stole 24 bases in 42 games and Desi Relaford nabbed 21 in 48 contests, both in 1994.