Cubs catching prospect Miguel Amaya hoping to catch a break

Once considered the fourth-best prospect in the Cubs’ system, Amaya has been derailed by injuries.

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Miguel Amaya (with David Ross in 2019) has caught many Cubs pitchers who advanced through the system.

Miguel Amaya (with David Ross in 2019) has caught many Cubs pitchers who advanced through the system.

John Antonoff/Sun-Times

TEMPE, Ariz. — So close, yet so far.

It was only last March when Cubs All-Star catcher Willson Contreras took prospect Miguel Amaya to dinner and implored him to prepare as much as possible in the event Contreras was traded or embarked for free agency.

But days before Contreras officially files for free agency, Amaya remains relegated to wearing a walking boot while rehabbing from a Lisfranc fracture suffered Sept. 11 that cost him a chance to move closer to a major-league job.

So instead of getting at-bats and testing his rebuilt right throwing elbow in the Arizona Fall League, Amaya is resigned to receiving treatments and mentally preparing by calling pitches from his couch.

“Even watching the playoffs, it’s hard,” Amaya said while sitting at a hotel patio, flanked by a crutch.

In the event Contreras rejects a qualifying offer of $19.65 million after the World Series, the Cubs will need to do no less than fortify their catching depth. Yan Gomes was a plus-5 in defensive runs saved and was successful in nailing 33% of would-be base stealers. But Gomes is 35 and batted .235. Backup P.J. Higgins, 29, provided versatility, but the Cubs don’t have a healthy and prized catching prospect above the Class-A level.

If it weren’t for the COVID pandemic, Amaya, 23, might have made his major-league debut in 2021. But he injured his elbow on May 27, 2021, and eventually underwent Tommy John surgery last November.

Amaya was about a week away from resuming catching duties for Double-A Tennessee before injuring his left foot on a slide that stunted his progress.

Before the foot injury, Amaya had eight hits in his last 22 at-bats (.364) with three doubles, three home runs and a 1.373 OPS. He was close to completing a long-toss program and caught as many bullpen sessions as possible to regain the strength in his legs that allowed him to catch 77823 innings in 2019 — the same year he made his second consecutive Futures Game appearance and was ranked as the organization’s fourth-best prospect by Baseball America entering the 2020 season.

“We can’t control that,” Amaya said of the foot injury. “It happens playing the right way. From that point, we have to keep moving forward and stay positive with a lot of faith. Trusting God is the main thing for me and trying to get better.”

Treatment of the foot is paramount. Amaya hasn’t been allowed to throw out of fear of compensating for his foot and risking injury. He does perform shoulder and elbow exercises and appears identical to his listed 6-2, 230-pound frame.

But playing winter ball won’t be an option until the foot is completely healed.

“I’m just trusting the process and conditioning my entire body with the program they gave me,” Amaya said.

Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer empathizes with Amaya but stressed that he’ll need to make up for the lost at-bats.

“He’s still a really good prospect, and I think he’s going to be a very good player,” Hoyer said Oct. 10 at his postseason news conference. “He hasn’t been able to get on the field.”

Nevertheless, Amaya remains upbeat while reinforcing his religious faith. Before the COVID shutdown, Amaya adjusted his swing under the suggestion of team instructors to induce more power.

But getting live at-bats over an extended period became scarce because of the COVID shutdown and Tommy John surgery. And after a 12-game rehab stint in the Arizona Complex League in July, Amaya recognized he needed to adjust to the higher velocities after being activated to play in the Double-A Southern League.

“Being shorter, being quick, just being more direct,” said Amaya, who batted .278 with four home runs in 97 at-bats and an .864 OPS with Tennessee. “That’s helped me recognize pitches. It’s been helping me get my walks.”

Since signing for a $1.3 million bonus out of Panama in 2015, Amaya has caught many pitchers who have advanced through the farm system, including Keegan Thompson and Justin Steele, whom Amaya caught at the alternate site in South Bend during the latter part of 2020.

“They did an awesome job,” said Amaya, who watched many Cubs games on TV while he was rehabbing his elbow in Arizona during the first half of 2022. “If I get an opportunity to catch them again, I’ll feel confident because I’ve caught them before.”

And he’ll apply many of the lessons taught by Contreras.

“Contreras means a lot to me,” Amaya said with a smile. “He talked about how to control everything on and off the field, like preparing for a game, calling a game, adjusting to situations. Just trying to control everything you can, even with fans.”

The dialogue has subsided, mostly because Amaya prefers to give Contreras ample mental space as he prepares for free agency.

And returning to full health remains Amaya’s biggest priority.

“My offseason focus is to be the best version of me for 2023, and whatever happens, happens,” Amaya said. “I just want to be healthy to show everyone who Miguel Amaya is and just have fun and play the baseball I know.”

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