MESA, Ariz. — Sometimes opportunity comes when you least expect it. Catcher PJ Higgins has gotten rave reviews around Cubs camp this spring after Austin Romine’s sprained knee created more chances for him to show what he can do.
Now Higgins, 27, is inching closer to having a spot on the Opening Day roster.
“I think there’s a lot to like about PJ,” manager David Ross said. “He makes good contact. I love his ability to run a game behind the plate. We’ve thrown a couple of scouting reports at him already, and he did a really good job the other night catching and handling that. . . . The work ethic and the care of the guy is off the charts, as well. So there’s a lot to appreciate from him.”
If there’s a position where the Cubs can suffer an injury and still weather the storm, it’s catcher. Willson Contreras is the every-day guy behind the plate, but quality depth is giving the Cubs peace of mind and allowing them to develop players such as Higgins and prospect Miguel Amaya.
Higgins, drafted in the 12th round in 2015, has performed well in a brief minor-league career. During his last full season in 2019, he slashed .281/.349/.416 with 10 homers between Class AA Tennessee and Class AAA Iowa.
He hasn’t just caught the coaches’ attention — the Cubs’ pitchers are loving what they see, too. Although Higgins is a non-roster invitee, starters have been relying on him to get them through outings.
“PJ Higgins, wow — I mean, we can sit for a whole day and talk about PJ Higgins,” right-hander Adbert Alzolay said with a smile. “Both him and Justin Steele, we’ve been together for pretty much our entire minor-league careers, playing in the same team, living together. So I’m pretty happy for him. I’m pretty pumped up for him, and he’s having a really, really good spring training.”
While Higgins’ ability behind the plate ultimately will decide whether he makes the Opening Day roster, his versatility also makes him an attractive option for Ross off the bench. Higgins has played second and third base this spring and is considered an above-average third baseman.
Depending on how Ross decides to design his bench, Higgins could provide an at-bat late in games, especially with no universal designated hitter and National League rules returning in 2021.
“I love the fact that you’ve got somebody that could potentially play third or move around,” Ross said. “I mean, he’s got great hands. He’s probably — if you’ve listened to the people [in] player development —
one of the better third baseman we have in the organization, just as far as reliability on defense.”