Cubs backup catcher Victor Caratini expects more opportunities this season
Manager David Ross has considered having Caratini and starting catcher Willson Contreras in the lineup together.
The shortened season opens opportunities for various players because of the newly adopted rules for 2020, including expanded rosters and the universal designated hitter. But no Cubs player stands to benefit more from the circumstances than backup catcher Victor Caratini.
Caratini, 26, is in line for an expanded role this season after showing he could handle a greater workload in 2019.
‘‘I feel I’ll have more opportunities on the field, and I’m happy I’ll have the opportunity to take more at-bats,’’ Caratini said through a translator. ‘‘Whether it’s as a DH or wherever, I think playing more, I’ll be able to show my abilities.’’
Cubs manager David Ross has spoken highly of Caratini’s bat during summer camp and of his desire to get him into the lineup more often. He even has considered having Caratini and starting catcher Willson Contreras in the lineup together. With three catchers likely to be on the roster — at least at the start of the season — that idea might become a reality.
‘‘I think he’s just getting more attention — maybe because he’s the backup catcher and I’m a backup catcher and I give too much love to backup catchers,’’ Ross said with a smile. ‘‘He’s been the same guy; I just think he’s getting noticed. He’s a piece that we can use, and you guys see it. We’ve got the DH [this season] where we can add a bat, and who’s that bat from time to time? It’s going to be Vic Caratini.’’
While left fielder Kyle Schwarber figures to be the Cubs’ primary DH, Ross said he expects to rotate players in that role. Caratini being a switch-hitter will allow the Cubs to use him to match up against opposing pitchers.
Caratini had a .266/.348/.447 slash line to go with career highs of 11 home runs and 34 RBI in 95 games last season. His 104 OPS+ ranked sixth on the team among players with a minumum of 90 games.
‘‘Knowing Victor from when we got him in a trade [with the Braves in 2014] and meeting him in Kane County and watching his first full season at [high Class A] Myrtle Beach . . . he would have these monster at-bats,’’ hitting coach Anthony Iapoce said. ‘‘He’d be down two strikes, battling, and [was] able to hit with runners in scoring position.
‘‘The moment is never too big for Vic. When there’s some type of situation, he’s able to handle it. We were just talking about it the other day with Ian Happ about Vic and how he’s able to manage his swings from both sides. It’s definitely challenging, but that’s where your routine comes in, and he has a routine from each side of the plate. So to see him do that in the big leagues, you’re proud of him.’’
With the uncertainty of Anthony Rizzo’s balky back, Caratini also might get some playing time at first base. If Rizzo is unable to start the season, the Cubs are comfortable with Caratini playing there.
‘‘I’m excited about [playing first base], but I know Anthony Rizzo is our first baseman,’’ Caratini said. ‘‘He’s a key player for our team. I hope Anthony doesn’t start the season on the injured list, and I wish him a healthy recovery. But I’m excited if the opportunity presents itself to play first base.’’
What continues to be most important for Caratini, however, is his relationship and budding chemistry with right-hander Yu Darvish. Caratini became Darvish’s personal catcher last season, and Darvish had a 3.29 ERA with him behind the plate.
‘‘I just tried to look at the way he tried to pitch,’’ Caratini said. ‘‘His pitch sequences, how he approaches batters and the way he likes to look at scouting reports. It’s something I looked at in the beginning, and that has helped our relationship and rapport.
‘‘He has the ability to throw a wide array of pitches, but not just throwing them. The way he executes them, they become plus pitches. We try to use them to get batters out as much as possible.’’