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Position Report: Catcher
by alex ciepley
Here's the first of our around-the-diamond scouting reports on the 2004 Cubs. We're shooting for two a day, in order to cover every position, the five starters, the bullpen, and the bench before the season is too old.
2003: Damian Miller (114 G), Paul Bako (69 G), Josh Paul (3 G)
2004: Michael Barrett, Bako
Christian: The Cubs brought Damian Miller in last year to start at catcher. Miller has led a charmed life behind the plate; after a few years catching The Big Unit and Curt Schilling in Arizona, he came over to catch Wood and Prior, and has now moved on to handle the A's staff. It's impossible to know whether Miller's reputation behind the plate is a cause or an effect of the great pitchers he's caught, but whatever it is it's good for him, since he can't hit his way out of a wet paper bag. His one year in Chicago saw him post career lows in almost every offensive category, leading the Cubs to ship him out for Michael Barrett, who looks like a younger version of Miller without the sterling defensive reputation.
Finally given a chance to catch every day in Montreal in 2001 after shuttling between catcher and third base, Barrett responded with a Neifi-riffic 250/289/367 line. He improved a bit the next year, but 2003 saw a regression that Cubs fans hope was caused more by a hip injury than by a general lack of talent. Barrett is still young enough (27) to improve, but if the Cubs fall short of the playoffs this year, a serious lack of offense behind the plate could be one of the reasons why.
Paul Bako will serve as backup again this year, reuniting with Greg Maddux, for whom he served as a personal catcher during part of Maddux's "I Don't Like Javy" phase.
Alex: I was hoping that the Cubs would acquire Barrett before the 2003 season, but it turned out to be a moot point: offensively, at least, the Cubs got a Barrettish performance from Damian Miller: Miller's 2003 OPS (.680) was two points above Barrett's (.678). As Christian notes, this is notably down from his solid year prior in which he hit 263/332/418. A return to that kind of production would be a welcome boon to the lower part of the Cubs' order, and would give the Cubs the best non-Kendall catcher in the division. Which isn't saying gosh darn much, of course.