Amaya earning trust as Cubs' catcher of the future

March 11th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Jordan Bastian’s Cubs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

MESA, Ariz. -- Yan Gomes remembers being the young catcher trying to grow into the role of the trusted starter. The veteran also knows what it took to get into that position, and he sees traits in Cubs catcher Miguel Amaya that can lead him down a similar path.

“That's something that we definitely want to see,” Gomes said. “You can tell that he’s listening and taking it all in. I think there's going to come a time where this team, I think, will be handed to him. And he's going to have to take [charge] of the role.”

The Cubs are set to head into this season with the 36-year-old Gomes -- a veteran of a dozen MLB seasons and revered for his handling of pitchers -- in the lead role, and the 25-year-old Amaya next in line. Last year, Amaya was summoned from Double-A Tennessee in May out of necessity, expediting his learning curve at the MLB level and positioning him to earn trust in the process.

It was a whirlwind experience that came after Amaya dealt with a multitude of injury setbacks. The catcher made his way back from Tommy John surgery in ‘22, only to sustain a high ankle sprain and Lisfranc fracture in his left foot later that year. It all threatened to jeopardize the career trajectory of a former top prospect who twice played in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game.

Needless to say, Amaya has felt relief to field questions this spring about baseball, and not injuries.

“Honestly, it gives me mental peace,” Amaya said, “to know that I am 100 percent healthy. They are things that are in the past, things that you can’t control. We’re here now, 100 percent, ready more than ever and with the desire to win.”

Amaya admitted that it was a difficult task to learn many of Chicago’s pitchers on the fly last season, but he feels much more prepared this spring after that experience. Gomes noted that the younger catcher “asks the right questions” behind the scenes and has shown increased confidence in guiding pitchers, especially the younger arms he handled previously in the Minors.

Cubs manager Craig Counsell and multiple pitchers have raved about Amaya’s receiving skills. And while the “catcher’s ERA” metric is more of a snapshot statistic rather than a strong evaluation tool, it is worth noting that Cubs pitchers collectively posted a 3.87 ERA in 295 innings with Amaya last year. For comparison, Gomes helped the staff to a 4.04 ERA in 821 2/3 innings.

“He made everybody better when he was back there, which is so rare for a young catcher coming up,” Cubs righty Kyle Hendricks said. “He puts in so much work in Spring Training, getting to know guys, having conversations. That's where it starts -- all the stuff in the background that you don't see. He's such a hard worker and he's going to have a heck of a career because of that.”

And if Amaya continues on that type of path, there is an opportunity for him to grow into the Cubs’ No. 1 job by the end of this season.

“In Amaya,” Counsell said, “we have a young player that's getting better, had a good introduction to the big leagues and handled it pretty darn well. So I think it puts us in a good position with two guys that we know can handle a big part of the load.

“Obviously, we recognize what Yan has done in this league, what he did last year. But [we] know that we also have somebody that's capable of playing if we get in a situation where something happens, and that Miguel is ready to take that next step.”